Where are they now? Looking back almost 30 years to the launch of BhS and Friars Square in Aylesbury
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September 23 1993 was the official opening day of Aylesbury’s Friars Square as we know it, and the first day of trading for the majority of its shops, after two years of disruption while it was transformed into a modern shopping destination with BhS and Beatties as anchor stores.
In the run-up the centre’s 30th anniversary, Tony Pearson, the first ever manager of BhS (British Home Stores) in Aylesbury, spoke to The Bucks Herald about the launch.
As a young manager, Tony had already headed up the launch of a new 28sq ft BhS ‘concept store’ in Chelmsford, and Aylesbury was to become the second.
Tony, now aged 64, said: “It changed the whole look of BhS. The staff didn’t have to wear the old uniform any more, there was freedom for staff to choose what they wore. And the store was in a circle so it was all a lot more modern.”
At the time, BhS was part of The Storehouse Group, the retail operation set up by Sir Terence Conran which included Habitat, Mothercare, Richard Shops, Blazer and Children’s World.
Tony said: “1993 was exciting, with David Dworkin coming to the end of his tenure as chief executive. He was a man with a mission, to change retail. He listened to people’s ideas and took risks by appointing young, energetic individuals to senior roles.”
Tony had the task of recruiting around 100 full and part-time staff – or Store Associates as they were known – for the brand new store, with interviews held at Hampden Hall, Aylesbury.
“Basically, we started with a blank piece of paper,” Tony said. “So many people turned up for interviews – literally thousands queued up.
“We recruited a really fantastic team of people. Every single person that we recruited, they were just great. Then we sent them up to Milton Keynes for training and I think we even sent a few down to Oxford Street, so it was all quite exciting really.”
On the first day of trading, the store was open from 9am to 9pm, and takings were £54,000 – more than double the target of £25,500 – and that success continued with sales of £160,664 over the first three days.
Tony left BhS in 1994 for an opportunity with IKEA that saw him continue his retail career around the world, before eventually retiring to Buckingham.
He said: “Thirty years have flown by. BhS, Beatties, Woolworths, they are all gone now, but in 1993 they were at the forefront of everybody’s minds as they were so prominent on every high street.”
Shopping centre manager Andy Margieson said: “Friars Square shopping centre is proud to have been at the heart of Aylesbury for 30 successful years.
“It’s thanks to our great staff and our retailers across those three decades that Friars Square has been and remains such an enjoyable place for shoppers to socialise and enjoy some great shopping.
“We are planning a celebration event in the summer to mark our 30th birthday and to say thank you to our loyal customers for their continued support.”