Image Credit: Supplied

When the world was waking up to the charms of Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark and cheering on Prince Charles and Lady Diana on their engagement and wedding, a nascent nation, just 10 years old, was busy building its infrastructure to take it into the 21st century. From upgrading its airfields and expanding its seaports to becoming a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the UAE in 1981 was working towards taking its rightful place among nations in the region.

As hordes of people from around the globe joined Dubai and the UAE on its journey to progress, one business family realised the potential for a community centre that met all the needs of a growing population. Thus was born Al Ghurair Centre - the first modern shopping mall in Dubai and in fact the Middle East, laying the ground for the emergence of a new shopping culture and a world-class retail destination.

A picture of Al Ghurair Centre when it was opened in 1981 Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Opening with 100 stores 40 years ago, the home-grown Al Ghurair Centre set the standard for retail not only in Dubai but also the region. A comprehensive mix of global and local brands from fashion and jewellery to home decor and accessories, an enticing variety of food and beverage outlets, and an amusement arcade with foosball and other attractions instantly made it the go-to place for shopping and entertainment.

Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

“Al Ghurair Centre has risen to the forefront of the regional retail business, combining the culture and tradition of the city of Dubai with a modern shopping experience,” says Ronald Andrew Coakley, Vice President – Mall, Al Ghurair Centre. “Over the past 40 years, we have evolved and upgraded ourselves staying relevant in the changing retail landscape of Dubai. We have consistently attracted the best and new brands coming into the emirate.”

Over the past 40 years, we have evolved and upgraded ourselves staying relevant in the changing retail landscape of Dubai. We have consistently attracted the best and new brands coming into the emirate.

- Ronald Andrew Coakley, Vice President – Mall, Al Ghurair Centre

In 2013, Al Ghurair Centre embarked on a major expansion worth Dh2 billion, adding another 375,000 sq ft of retail space and 150 stores taking the total to 250. Brands such as Marks and Spencer, Rivoli, Omega, Damas, Centrepoint, Carrefour, Sun and Sand Sports, Emax and adidas became part of its growing retail portfolio while premium and popular dining concepts were introduced along with renovated office space, a serviced-apartment complex, a 5-star hotel and many other attractions.

Six years later, the centre took its entertainment offering up several notches with the introduction of the state-of-the-art Dolby sound 18-screen experience by Reel Cinemas.

With an eye on improving customer experience, Al Ghurair Centre has also been innovating and adapting to the technological changes in the retail sphere. Last year, it launched its Rewards app powered by the Entertainer, which helps customers make the most of the special offers and discounts at its stores.

Today as Al Ghurair Centre celebrates 40 years of success, it retains its allure as a must-visit shopping destination with a variety of global retailers as well as local brands offering traditional Arab items such as abayas, shaylas and fragrances. Add to the mix a wide range of indoor and outdoor dining options such as Paul Café, Manoushe Street, Starbucks, Tim Hortons and the region’s first McDonald’s and you understand the centre’s charm.

Image Credit: Supplied

"Al Ghurair Centre is an important landmark for us at McDonald’s" says Walid Fakih, General Manager at McDonald's UAE. "In 1994, the centre welcomed our first-ever McDonald’s restaurant in the UAE and we’ve been providing feel-good moments for families ever since.

“Looking back, it was the perfect location to open our restaurant enabling us to offer iconic sandwiches like the Big Mac to loyal customers and tourists alike. Over the years, our restaurant at Al Ghurair Centre evolved with our brand and we were able to introduce innovative services to improve our customers’ experience while enjoying their favourite meals.

"The restaurant has brought together many families and friends to celebrate milestones and key occasions and we look forward to be part of these experiences for years to come. From the entire McDonald’s family, we are proud to be part of these celebrations and we wish the Al Ghurair Centre a happy 40th anniversary. We look forward to our continuous growth together."

For people like Mohammed Tawfik Al Sarayji who ventured into business in the 1980s, it made sense to set up shop at Al Ghurair Centre.

“We chose Al Ghurair Centre because it is located in a vibrant area and attracts customers from around the world,” says Al Sarayji, owner of Signi Trading, which runs a textile business. “The centre is now part of Dubai’s heritage, while constantly renovating itself as a mall to remain one of the most important shopping centres in the UAE. When we opened our shop in Al Ghurair Centre, there were absolutely no other malls in the Gulf that had a similar facility to Al Ghurair Centre.”

Long-term support

Long-term retailers also vouch for the support they have been receiving over the past 40 years as well as during the pandemic.

“Being one of the first Sun and Sand Sports stores and one of the oldest stores in Al Ghurair Centre, we have developed a very strong relationship with the mall management for generations,” says Manish Israni, Senior Operations Director at Sun and Sand Sports. “Time and again they have proved that they are one phone call away from offering any kind of support, be it customer service, asset protection, maintenance, or electric blackouts.

"Located in the heart of Deira and a few metres away from the Union Square Metro, Al Ghurair Centre attracts people of diverse nationalities and increased tourist footfall, which give us access to consumers willing to pay across a wide price range.

“World-class dining options and the extensive Carrefour also give residents more reasons to visit the centre frequently.”

Coakley echoes the sentiments of these retailers who have grown along with Al Ghurair Centre. “The mall has played an integral role in not only providing for the shopping needs of the local population but also by becoming a must-see destination for the thousands of visitors to Dubai who flock through its doors every year. About 50,000 people visit our F&B, entertainment and retail outlets every day.”

Going forward, the centre aims to further improve its family offerings with more entertainment zones and F&B outlets, blurring the lines between retail and destination-led experiences.

Savouring the success

But at the moment, the focus is on savouring the success of the past 40 years.

To commemorate this journey, the centre has planned a slew of activities. “There will be a whole line-up of events, exciting offers, giveaways and lot more for visitors to look forward to in the coming months,” explains Coakley. “We will have a variety of offers from retailers for over a 40-day period with social media campaigns such as Tell us your Al Ghurair Centre story, your memorable moment at #theCentre, return your Sindbad coin campaigns and much much more.”

Keep an eye out for the exciting competitions and offers on the mall’s social media platforms @alghuraircentre.