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The making of Westfield

From humble beginnings in Blacktown, Sydney, to over 100 malls worldwide, Katie Ramsingh discovers how Westfield reinvented the shopping centre as a major entertainment destination and took the retail world by storm

Katie Ramsingh
Katie Ramsingh,

To imagine a shopping centre that does not offer a selection of restaurants, cafés, cinema screens and some form of entertainment complex is somewhat unusual for the modern customer. We’ve come to expect our malls and shopping centres to not only supply a large selection of retail outlets, but also facilities for dining, relaxing, pampering and entertainment.


To imagine a shopping centre without these facilities is to imagine an Australia without Westfield. First listed as a public company on the Sydney Stock Exchange in 1960, the Westfield group now has 47 centres in New Zealand and Australia alone; these received more than 555 million customer visits last year, generating over A$22bn-worth of sales. Westfield has been instrumental in changing the way that not only Australia, but the world, shops.


Blacktown beginnings
In July 1959 John Saunders and Frank Lowy opened their first shopping centre in Blacktown, Sydney. As the mall was located in west Sydney among farmland fields, they named the complex Westfield Plaza. Based on the American retail centre model, Westfield Plaza featured 12 shops, two department stores and a supermarket, and quickly established Blacktown as a new commercial hub, hailed as a great success by the local community and press. Saunders and Lowy swiftly floated their business on the Australian stock market and set about building what was to become a retail empire.


From strength to strength
From then on Westfield experienced over two decades of continuous growth, as Saunders and Lowy laid the foundations for what the company would become. In the 1970s, six new centres were built and another five were redeveloped, including Indooroopilly in Brisbane and Parramatta in Sydney. In 1980 Westfield acquired three new centres in the US and the company took over the Macy’s portfolio in 1986. By 1988 there were seven centres in Westfield’s US portfolio, worth $1.1bn. In 2000 the group acquired 10 centres in the UK, which would later include a large expansion in Stratford, east London, to coincide with the 2012 London Olympics.


Community spirit
No matter how big the company grew, one of the main aims of the Westfield Group was to keep the community feel of its first plaza in Blacktown alive in all its retail centres. While big shopping complexes can have a negative impact on an area’s individuality, Westfield has always strived to have a positive effect on the communities it touches, creating residential areas and hundreds of new jobs with each complex that opens, showcasing the best local retailers alongside international names within its complexes, and creating places where the whole family can enjoy spending time together. Westfield sees its centres as true community spaces to be enjoyed by everyone.


Endless possibilities
Now established as world-class retail destinations, all Westfield branches feature cutting-edge design and architecture, particularly those in major Australian and New Zealand cities. The Westfield brand has the power to change the face of retailing in any area, offering not only retail experiences but dining, both fine and more casual, cinema complexes, bowling alleys, casinos and more. Major celebrities, including Rihanna and Taylor Swift, have performed at the brand’s Christmas lights launch celebrations. Plans to develop further into Brazil and other countries mean the possibilities for the brand are endless, and the future of Westfield looks very bright indeed.



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