THE first manager of Glasgow’s St Enoch Centre recalls getting a little fed up with all the jokes about the mall’s huge glass roof.

“There was even a cartoon in the Evening Times about it,” sighs George Ritchie, who was the man in charge when the centre opened its doors 30 years ago this weekend.

“They said something like – are you no’ growin’ any tomatoes?”

He adds, with a laugh: “So I did – and very successful they were too. I set up a wee planter at the back of the management suite. I even had a go at peaches, although they didn’t work so well.”

As the St Enoch Centre celebrates its milestone birthday, the Evening Times caught up with George to find out why the mall caused such a fuss when it opened – and why it still has such a special place in the hearts of city shoppers.

READ MORE: Work on St Enoch expansion featuring cinema and restaurant begins

“The glass roof was what everyone was talking about,” recalls George, 80, who lives in Newton Mearns with his wife Carmen.

“It was the biggest glass structure in Europe, and it was like nothing else in the city. Like the mall itself, it was revolutionary.”

George’s father ran Trerons, one of Glasgow’s old department stores.

“It was all I knew,” he says. “My dad would talk about the shop at dinner, to my mother, and I took it all in. I didn’t know how you became a lawyer or a doctor, but I knew all about retail.”

READ MORE: Public call for Glasgow clock to be handed back for train station revamp

He adds, with a smile towards Carmen, whom he married in 1965: “I did plan to join the army, but I met the girl of my dreams. I had done my National Service and that changed my life. I wasn’t very fond of school, I didn’t work hard. But the army made me realise that you had to work to get anywhere in life.”

George went to London to train, and spent some time in luxury department store Harrod’s.

“That was an experience, the boss used to walk about in the shop floor in his bowler hat!” he laughs. “When the Queen came to visit, we’d get a call in advance, and the manager would go and change into his striped trousers and black coat.

“It was a fantastic training ground, though.”

After spells in other shopping centres, including Trerons, George got the job of general manager for the city’s new St Enoch Centre.

READ MORE: Wishaw schoolboy Craig Mitchell speaks up for Face Equality Day

“I remember the run up to the opening because everyone was so excited,” he recalls. “We used to have queues of people outside during the building works, even though it wasn’t open to the public. They just wanted to see it.

“There were 80 tenants, a food court and the ice rink, and a car park which could take 900 cars.”

The official opening ceremony took place in March 1990, with then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher doing the honours.

“She wasn’t the most popular politician at the time, but we all got the feeling that she was incredibly professional and very good at the job she had to do,” he says. “Security was phenomenal.”

George worked long hours at the centre, even at the weekends.

Read more of today's top Glasgow stories.

“It was my job, in the early days, to make everyone knew about the centre,” he says. “

He recalls visits from TV crews, filming the likes of Taggart and Rab C Nesbitt, and Radio Clyde used to have a competition postbox in the centre too.

“There was always something interesting going on,” he says.

“Your biggest fear, as manager, was always that something would go wrong. The safety of our shoppers and staff was my biggest concern.

“For a while, we suffered from bomb hoaxes and on one occasion, we had one which was sufficiently lifelike to cause the police and army serious concern. The place was wall to wall people, and the Queen and Prince Philip had been in the city earlier that day, so it was very unnerving.

“But in the end, thankfully, it was another hoax.”

George says the job of centre manager now is a world away from his role 30 years ago.

“My job was to introduce people to this new way of shopping, to tell them what it was all about,” he says. “Now the centre is established, it’s a very different job.

“But I still pop in now and then - it’s a great centre, which really led the way in Glasgow.”

He smiles: “And I loved my job - I would have done it for nothing.”

In tomorrow’s Evening Times: More mall memories, as we catch up with current general manager Anne Ledgerwood and Jim O’Rourke, the only original member of staff still working in the mall.


1783 - St. Enoch Square opens as a public area for grazing area for sheep

1876 - St. Enoch Railway Station first opens its doors

1879 - St. Enoch Hotel opens for business

1974 – The hotel closes down and the site is turned into a car park.

1985 – Work begins on the land, getting it ready for the first shopping centre of its kind in Scotland.

May 25, 1989 - St. Enoch Centre opens its doors.

March 1990 - Margaret Thatcher officially opens the centre

1998 – A major refurbishment adds more retail space and improves the entrance facing on to Argyle Street.

February 2005 - St. Enoch Centre is purchased by Ivanhoe Cambridge, and work starts on an extensive £150 million redevelopment and refurbishment programme.

November 2009 – World famous toy store Hamleys comes to the centre.

2013 – St Enoch Centre is acquired by Blackstone.

April 2019 – Work starts on a £40m leisure development which will add 30,000 sq ft, a cinema and nine new restaurants to the centre.