The wait is finally over. Love it or hate it, our very own regional shopping centre is just a day away from opening. As I write this article, the frenetic activity on the exterior of the site pales in comparison to the last-minute shop-fitting and preparations inside the mall. After watching the progress from afar for so long, I’m unashamedly brimming with anticipation at the prospect of walking into the centre.

ballito junction

Progress on the build of the new Ballito Junction Shopping Centre.

I’ve heard some people talk about how the regional mall is the final straw and that our small, sleepy town has been ruined by development and an influx of people moving in from all over South Africa. I just chuckle at this attitude because, to be fair, most of the people now living in our town have moved here from other parts  many in only the last five to 10 years. If anyone should be perturbed by the development, it is those families and residents who have called this place home for generations. As one of the latter, I find it interesting that many lifelong residents of the North Coast have embraced the growth of the region and I’ve often found myself reminiscing with friends and family about the days in which we longed for more development and activity.

junction 2

One month away from opening.

You have to remember that back in the 80s and 90s, we lived in the sticks. Umhlanga Ridge and Gateway didn’t exist and Durban was a place that we only went to once a month to do a big shop, or to enjoy the annual pantomime at the Playhouse Opera Theatre. Our shopping trips were to destinations such as The Workshop and The Wheel , with movies at the BP Centre, as it was known then. We also shopped at the Mr Price in Brickhill Road before it became the brand that it is today. My memory of the store involved digging in large sales bins for clothing and shoes. I had to make my winter clothes budget stretch  after all it would be months before I’d return to restock the cupboards with anything other than what we could buy at the Coastal Farmers Store in Umhlali or Beth’s Beach Shop, which used to be in Sandra Road, just up from Salmon Bay.

umhlali

Umhlali Village – the most glamourous of Winter Clothes shopping destinations…

For special treats we would make the lengthy journey for steaks at the original Mike’s Kitchen in Umhlanga or for milkshakes at the landmark Tropicale in Albert Park, near to the Durban harbour. Closer to home, there was the odd occasion where the lights would go out and we needed to get some food, but Durban was too far away. In those instances, I recall my siblings and I being told to bath and get changed into our pyjamas, after which and the family would head off in our Ford station wagon on the long drive to Tongaat to buy a KFC Family Bucket, or to the Mini Chef (for hot chips and vinegar) which was next to the Caltex garage on Ballito Drive.

durbanbeach

A view you might have had of Durban Beachfront in days of olde…

So with all the exciting shops and restaurants being so far away, you can imagine the excitement that any new retailer opening in the area brought to the local population. One of the most memorable grand openings was that of the Spur on the ground floor next to the well-established Mariners restaurant (now Joe Cools). The queues of patrons lined up around the block and,with all the over-excitement, it became very difficult to differentiate between adults and children. Never before had Ballito been so privileged as to welcome such an established and legendary South African brand.

kfc bucket

Old School Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket!

The Spur was followed by a Panarotti’s directly above it (now Shakers) and this took locals to fever-pitch. The floodgates had seemingly opened and it wasn’t long before we were shopping at exotic stores such as CNA and Scotts, and enjoying fine dining at Debonairs and Steers. We had truly arrived on the national stage and shopping centres and other developments were now a real possibility. When it came to nightlife as we got a little older, we couldn’t wait for the holidays for clubs like Keylargo’s, Bostons, Hickory’s, Annex and Sub Zero to fill up again and provide us with a bit of variety. We were definitely not unhappy about the influx of people, apart from perhaps the shortage of ice and parking spaces. So I suppose, depending on how one views all the development, we should have been a little more careful about what we wished for but I’m not complaining.