City shopping centre celebrates 60 years

A shopping centre in Leeds which was the biggest in the UK when it first opened is marking 60 years of business.

The Merrion Centre broke new ground when it opened on 26 May 1964, combining daytime shopping with evening entertainment such as bowling and nightclubs.

People are being invited to share their memories of the city's longest-standing shopping centre in an exhibition looking back at its history.

Edward Ziff, who has taken on the business from his parents Arnold and Marjorie, said: "You can always tell someone's age by their memories of Merrion."

The Merrion Centre and its parent company Town Centre Securities (TCS) were founded by Arnold Ziff, who opened the site on his wife's 34th birthday.

Over the years, it has been home to a variety of shops and venues including nightclubs Tiffanys and The Phono as well as a 42-lane bowling alley and an Odeon cinema.

Many shoppers recall seeing inventor Rowland Emett's machine the Flying Kite, which used to be on display in the mall.

Made by the creator of the contraptions in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the machine was housed in a glass case and activated regularly to entertain visitors.

The Flying Kite is now back on show as part of a special exhibition marking the centre's anniversary.

Edward Ziff, now chairman and chief executive of TCS, was four when his parents opened the centre and said his father would be proud of how it had evolved.

He said: "I think Merrion was my father's fourth child.

"What it needed was to grow up, it needed to be nurtured, it needed to change its face a few times and become up to date.

"We've spent the whole time nurturing Merrion and I'm pleased to say our void levels is probably at an all-time low."

He said bosses were working with Leeds City Council over plans to build student accommodation, with one unit set to stand where the cinema used to be.

He added: "For us as a business, it's a huge, huge undertaking that is, I'm pleased to say, very profitable - but it's crucial we keep on it because what will happen if we don't is that people will catch up and overtake."

He added: "It's got fond memories for me but it's a very important part of our existence and life."

An exhibition showcasing pictures of the centre over the years will run from 30 May until 31 July.

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