Your Memories of Anderson and McAuley

Culture NI readers recall their experiences of the iconic Belfast department store ahead of a special anniversary reunion event

Twenty-two years ago last month, the last survivor of Belfast's family-owned department stores closed its doors. Over the course of more than a century at the corner of Donegall Place and Castle Street Anderson and McAuley had become an institution. With retail giants like Debenhams and Marks and Spencer moving in, its closure in March 1994 marked the end of an era for the city's shopping culture.

Now, more than two decades on, former staff, customers and friends of the illustrious business are invited to take a trip down memory lane at a one-off reunion at the Belfast Hilton on Saturday, April 30.

In the lead-up to the night – which includes a drinks reception, three course meal and live entertainment – organisers Profile Events have been sharing a host of stirring pictures from years past on Facebook. We reached out to our readers and contributors to go a step further and share with us their fondest and most vivid memories of 'Andy Mac's', 'the shopping Centre of Ulster'.

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'As children my sister and I, country girls both, loved nothing better than a big day out in the city with our mother. I recall the absolute thrill of entering an atmosphere of luxury and refinement, a warm, welcoming, perfumed paradise that was worlds away from our provincial high street stores. What they did have in common of course was family ownership but the scale and range of goods to be found in the city department stores such as Robinson & Cleaver, Anderson & McAuley and Brands & Normans was incomparable.' - Jenny Cathcart

'My dad was security for over forty years, from post-war to 1987, where he met my mum 1958. She worked on the switchboard and typist in the office. My brother also worked there for a few years in the '80s.' - Sharon Murdock

'My mother is 90 years old on April 3. She worked in Anderson & McAuley for several years as a telephonist on the switchboard when she was a young girl. She has many fond memories of her time there and would you believe, until recently when one sadly passed, had kept in touch with two of her colleagues ever since. I would love to bring her to this reunion as she is still in good health.' - Jacqueline Beckett

'As young children in the early '50s we were taken there every year for afternoon tea as a birthday treat. White linen tablecloths, silver teapots and delicious pastries. Happy memories. And I believe we visited Santa there every Christmas, travelling to him in a submarine or other mysterious vehicle.' - Ann Neely

'Life to me was great and I had achieved my childhood ambition, working in the most exclusive department store in Belfast – Anderson & McAuley’s. I had always been fascinated with the store as every Christmas my mum would take me into town to see the lights on the tree at City Hall, and then on to the most magical part – seeing the Anderson & McAuley’s Christmas window display, which was unlike any other shop in Belfast at the time. Little animated elves would wave out from a winter wonderland scene – like a fairytale that had come to life.

Every year just after Halloween, the shop windows facing Donegall Place would be covered in brown paper, the sort used for wrapping parcels. It was top secret, and even staff would speculate as to what lay behind the makeshift screens – the window dressers were the only staff who knew, and they would work on the windows during the day and late at night when the shop was closed, which intensified the mystery.

Several weeks later, on the first Thursday late-night opening for Christmas, a local celebrity would arrive, along with the press, where the windows would be unveiled to a large crowd outside on the street. People would travel from all over Northern Ireland just to witness the grand reveal; it was unique to the store.

Shoppers would be treated to enchanting scenes where animated elves and animals would wave to customers, beckoning them in. My Training Manager, Maureen Graham, had told me. ‘If a customer enjoys the scenes – they will be enticed to come into the store.' - Judith Fullerton

SEE ALSO: Famous Belfast Stores - Anderson and McAuley

'Remember being mesmerised walking through it as a kid. It was such a treat to go around. It was my first taster of a department store. Missed it when it went. It and Robinson and Cleavers. Jenners on Princes Street in Edinburgh makes me feel like being in A & M's again. Primark not quite the same!' - Fiona McKenzie Collard

'As a child I was always taken there to see the wonderful Christmas window displays. When I started work the costume jewellery sales were always worth a visit. A very special store and a big loss to Belfast when it closed.' - Jan Dalton

'Great, great store. It was a privilege to just wander through it. In 1970 they delivered a brush to our house at Dunmurry. I mean it was only a sweeping brush but they delivered it in their big van. Memories.' - Eamon O'Hagan

'I bought a fabulous wool wrap-around coat in their January sale in the 1970s, reduced from the then eye-watering price of £80 to only £10. I've still got it and it still looks great.' - Hilary Marchant

'Remember going with my ma. She needed things from the haberdashery dept. We went up to the restaurant, where I had my first ever open prawn sandwich...with pineapple. It felt so sophisticated! It was around 1970.' - Geraldine Murray

'Going to see Santa was amazing. Walking round a trail with little elf scenes and then getting on to his sleigh flying through the night sky. How did they do it?' - Shelagh Henry

'My dad's friend gave us a voucher for £50 in 1978. We bought a Denby dinner set and added to it over the years. I love it still Denby. Will O' The Wisp reminds me of my dad and his friend.' - Christine Doran

'We went there quite often when mummy took us to town. I got two lovely dresses that I can remember. They would have cost quite a bit but they gave me great confidence. Great store.' - Daphne Morris

The Anderson and McAuley Reunion takes place in the Lagan Suite at the Hilton Hotel, Belfast on April 30. Tickets are priced at £50 per person. To book phone 028 9027 0947 or contact Enya Moore enya@profilepublishing.com.