Malls of the UAE, part 2: Al Ghurair Centre a gem at the heart of old Dubai

In the second installment of our mall-ology series, we visit the Al Ghurair Centre in old Dubai and find that changes are afoot.

A shopkeeper speaks

“No one comes here with money – if you have money you go to Mall of Emirates or Dubai Mall – if it wasn’t for our old customers we would be struggling.”

– Perfume shopkeeper in Al Ghurair Centre

What’s its selling point?

The Al Ghurair Centre is on Al Rigga Road, Al Muraqqabat, Deira and sits between two metro stations, Union Metro Station and Rigga Station, in the heart of old Dubai.

In a city that likes firsts, the Al Ghurair Centre – or AGC – can boast that it was the first modern mall in the region. It can also take credit, or blame, depending on your eating habits, for opening the first McDonald’s in the UAE 21 years ago in 1994.

The mall opened to the public in 1981, delivering cinemas, shops and a food court. It has been remodelled twice in the past 15 years, including a recent Dh2 billion expansion that doubled its size and created a sparkling shopping space which feels very like The Dubai Mall, but a lot easier to navigate.

The new extension can take you by surprise because those who are used to the narrow confines of Deira may feel slightly agoraphobic with the wide open expanses and the startling oval glass roof that allows daylight to flood in creating a pleasant airy atmosphere – if one has driven through the mayhem of Deira it can be a much-needed tonic.

Tracking footfall

The new extension has increased its outlet count from 200 to more than 300 but, while mall officials say that the complex is 95 per cent occupied, there are still areas that feel well below that number. I was there at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon and while parking was a hassle – because I missed the multi storey car park attached by a sky bridge – the mall had few customers. AGC recently welcomed an 80,000 square foot Carrefour which shopkeepers say has increased the traffic to the mall significantly … although I could have been shopping at 4am and expected as many visitors.

This space is a community mall for its largely South Indian and Filipino customers but is also stocked with brands that appeal to a well-heeled westerners. You can find Marks & Spencer, Aeropostale, Dune and Lipsy alongside a raft of food and beverage (F&B) outlets vying for your attention in beautifully dressed stores and restaurants.

The outlook

On the back of its Dh2bn expansion, AGC invested a further Dh60 million for renovations to the original part of the mall. It has all you would expect from a modern UAE shopping centre with food court, children’s play area and an eight-screen Novo cinema.

Regional retailers such as Landmark, Apparel and Azadea have backed the mall by introducing new brands such as Yours London, Eleven Paris, Morgan De Toi, Denny’s, Longines, Panda Express, iCream and Umami have all joined the retail mix since the new expansion.

The mall is obviously keen to enjoy the F&B explosion being seen in the UAE, at present listing TGI Fridays, Yakitate, Jamba Juice, Sangeetha Vegetarian Restaurant, Bestoon Samad and Kababji Grill as all coming to the mall soon.

Any hidden gems?

The mall itself could be said to be a hidden gem. I enjoyed looking round with few others to block my path or spoil my visitor experience. Its new extension is worth a look especially its third floor food court beneath the wonderful glass roof – its like someone turned London’s landmark Gherkin building (30, St Mary Axe) on its side. Beneath it there is a fantastic Thai restaurant called Lemongrass which I would heartily recommend.

In conclusion

Deira is an important part of Dubai that has lacked the investment seen in other parts of the city. AGC has taken a bold step in supplying a space that demands the best brands – and the big retail groups have supplied them. The mall has been creating local events and happenings to increase footfall, whether this results in increased sales remains to be seen. If you didn’t have a reason to visit Deira now there is one, and with handily situated metro stations driving need no longer be an issue.

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