A decade on and Victoria Square is defying the downturn

Victoria Square manager Michelle Greeves has overseen a huge increase in footfall and occupancy at the Belfast shopping centre

ALMOST a decade since it first opened its doors in Belfast city centre, Victoria Square is defying the downturn on the high street, reporting sustained growth in both footfall and occupancy.

On March 6 next, 10 years will have passed since one of the biggest and most expensive property developments ever undertaken in Northern Ireland was completed.

The £400 million Victoria Square shopping centre boasts 62 retailers, 20 restaurants and cafés as well as its own cinema, but crucially it has retained its lustre according to manager Michelle Greeves.

Formerly the store manager at anchor tenant House of Fraser, she is well placed to speak about the development having been in place since its inception.

"2008 was an interesting year with the crash of Lehman Brothers. But even with that, the centre has grown year on year," she told the Irish News.

"Currently for the first six months of the year we are 4.5 per cent up on footfall, and June was a very strong month for us, with a 7.7 per cent growth year on year.

“We've seen really good growth this year and I think it comes from the weather, which has been slightly better so that's improved sales on spring/summer product. We've seen a lot more of our local customers staying local. Obviously with the exchange rate not being so favourable for us to travel, we have seen more local customers.

"We've also noticed this year a huge growth in tourism. I think we're up to 92 cruise ships. But it's not just that, because we're seeing many customers come from the rest of Europe and that's been a noticeable change, because they have been shopping and eating in the centre, which is fantastic."

As the north's high street reported the sharpest decline in footfall across all UK regions last month, Victoria Square celebrated significant growth, with the centre now at 95 per occupancy, and plans for the remaining units to be filled by this time next year.

“We are almost full and those couple are about to be occupied, " Ms Greeves explained.

"We're the fullest we've ever been. In the last four years there's been a huge increase in occupancy and we're now sitting at about 95 per cent, which is fantastic.

"Our strategy is very simple. Our customers have a high expectation of us bringing unique brands to the centre - House of Fraser, Apple, Cruise, Hollister to name a few. Our strategy is to attract first-to-market brands.

"We also put a huge amount of effort into the experience within the centre. Customers and rightly so have very high expectations and expect that world class service and world class environment.

"We invest a huge amount of time and effort into giving them an experience that will make them want to return. That's hugely important. Every customer is difficult to get, so when you get them you look after them."

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