As a 90s kid, my childhood memories may be a little sepia-tinted, but I well remember Union Street and its environs being THE place to be in Aberdeen.
On a Saturday in particular you were spoilt for choice when it came to shops, eateries, things to do.
Today’s news that the flagship Marks & Spencer is to close is two things.
It’s the final nail in the coffin for Aberdeen city centre.
And it truly is the end of an era for the city.
For those of my generation, it is final confirmation that the Aberdeen of today is no longer the city we grew up in.
Like most kids, I’d get dragged into town on Saturday, getting off the bus at the Castlegate, crossing the road and through McCombie’s Court to Marks & Spencer. Or the ‘green bag shop’ as we used to call it – B&Q was the ‘red bag shop’.
Of course, for Mum it was the delights of Burton, BHS, Littlewoods, C&A, Debenhams, Millets, Woolworths, John Lewis and the seemingly hundreds of other shops.
And yes, the jewel in Aberdeen’s crown, Marks & Spencer.
A tale of two cities: 1990s Aberdeen v 2020s Aberdeen
But these were the days before iPhone trackers and helicopter parenting, so my brother and I were given a few hours to ourselves to seek our own fun.
There were two cinemas – the ABC and the Odeon. Loads of shops for youngsters – Our Price, HMV, Virgin Megastore, Bruce Miller’s, the One Up record shop on Belmont Street, as well as two Dillons bookshops. And a plethora of places to grab food, like Pizza Hut on Union Street and the food hall in the Bon Accord Centre.
Even the bit outside the top floor of John Menzies was a great place to hang out with some lunch. Now? Not so much.
I know I’ve forgotten loads of places, but that’s the point. Aberdeen city centre had LOADS on offer for everyone. There’s a reason you could barely see the pavement amid the weekend crowds.
So yes, a ‘trip to Markies’ was a highlight of your week as a 90s kid in Aberdeen.
As shocking as this morning’s news was, those of us who have lived here over the past decade or two can’t say it hasn’t been coming.
Mistakes have been made.
The iconic food hall in the Bon Accord Centre should never have been ripped out to make way for a few soulless chains. You could order almost anything in the old food hall, is how I remember it.
Farcical council decisions have done little to help businesses, and Marks and Spencer not immune
Then there are the decisions of various Aberdeen City Council administrations over the years, which have arguably caused the most damage to Union Street and the city centre since the Luftwaffe visited in 1943.
The current council will end up blaming economic factors, they always do.
But the economic factors are national, and I don’t see the same decline in other cities.
By the time the Low Emission Zones (LEZ) come into force in June, it’ll hardly make any difference.
Because for the majority of folk, the bus gates and other traffic concerns are already stopping them visiting the town centre.
The only silver lining is that the council’s ineptitude means more people are instead spending their time and money in towns like Inverurie, Ellon and Stonehaven.
The farcical bus gates are already being blamed by businesses going through intense hardship.
2024 isn’t even three weeks old and we’ve already lost Haigs and Olive Alexanders, both of which have pointed the finger at bus gates and other traffic factors.
Businesses were already struggling with extortionate business rates before the council’s war on cars.
Aberdeen City Council are there to serve our needs. Is this really what the people of Aberdeen want? Our city centre impossible to get to for many? Cherished local businesses boarded up? A once iconic city centre and thoroughfare reduced to bookies, vape shops and pound shops?
Councillors must have foreseen the effect these decisions would have.
Or do they sleep well at night, knowing they’ve ‘saved the planet’?
One thing’s for sure, for 90s kids like me, the Aberdeen city centre we knew and loved is dead and buried.
Calum Petrie writes features about schools, education, and family matters.