Kmart 50 Year Anniversary

Golden milestone for Waratah icon

Kmart Waratah 50 years

Kmart 1970 – 2020

Waratah Village Shopping Centre marks a golden milestone in October 2020 when original tenant Kmart-Waratah celebrates it 50th anniversary since opening.

Built as a standalone store on what was formerly the old Lambton Brickyard site, construction of Kmart-Waratah began in March 1970.

Coles Supermarket was constructed shortly after and from there Waratah Village Shopping Centre has evolved, etching itself into the fabric of the Waratah community.

Along with its lifelong anchor tenants, the Village today boasts 22 specialty stores and service outlets.

In every respect it is a one-stop shopping destination, a feature that has made it so popular with the public for the last 50 years.

“The Village is like a neighbourhood hub,” said Michelle Forbes, who joined Kmart at Waratah in 1973, working there for over 25 years before transferring to Kmart in Salamander Bay.

“Generation after generation have come in since it was built – grand parents, parents and kids – and the Village has expanded with community.

“My future husband went to Waratah High and was working at Kmart after school, like so many young kids have done, when I first met him.

“My son worked at Kmart too and his future wife worked the Photo Corner which then went on to become Pixie Photos, and that’s how they met.”

The Village has seen many upgrades over the years, according to Paul Till, manager of long-term tenant Norris Hair Dressing Supplies.

“They’ve done a great job keeping up with trends and so forth, but although the facades have changed, the people have stayed the same,” Paul said.

“Being at Waratah, the people are down to earth and coming to work is like catching up with friends every day.

“I work with a woman and her daughter at Norris, and that’s pretty common at the Village – lots of families not only shop here, but they work here too, and then their kids.

“People go away, and then they come back. It’s always been like that.

“The owners of the Village are very fair to deal with too, particularly this year what with Covid, and they go out of their way each year to put the Christmas Lights show on. It’s a huge deal and the people love it. People drive from everywhere when the lights first go on in November.”

The Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal is Australia’s largest, longest running Christmas gift appeal and has raised more than 8 million gifts since establishment. The gifts are distributed to those in need.

Pharmacist Wanho Noh, who operates Amcal Chemist at Waratah Village, feels the shopping centre’s central location is another reason for its popularity.

“The accessibility and location make it very convenient, not just for locals, but for people across Newcastle and the region.

“We get customers from everywhere – from Fern Bay, Charlestown, Newcastle, Maitland. It’s like a crossroad for the city. A lot of people love the big carpark too and range of services. It is a convenient one stop shop.”

Kerrie Berwick is the deli manager at Coles and has worked at Waratah Village for nearly 25 years.

“It’s been terrific working here, the people are friendly, I’ve brought my kids up here as so many have, we know everyone and they know us,” Kerrie said.

“One of my best memories is the Christmas Lights and seeing how happy people are doing the countdown, watching the kids’ faces.

“The tradition continues for new generations but as a young mother I look back on that very fondly with my own young kids.”

It’s a feeling shared by fellow Coles worker Craig Holland who has worked at Waratah for 35 years.

Craig reckons he will never forget the day a car drove through the window of the Village cafe where he and his mates were having lunch.

“It was the 1990s and I think an elderly fellow had a moment confusing the accelerator with the brake and drove right through the window in front of us,” Craig said.

“When they reopened the cafe they renamed it the ‘Drive Through Cafe’ because this fella had just driven in.”

Michelle remembers some funny sights and events over the years too.

Kmart Waratah 50 years

Michelle pictured far right with Miss Kim and Big Dog

Kmart Waratah 50 years

Kerrie Berwick & Craig Holland

“There were dust-ups on our ‘Dollar Days’ at Kmart when housewives argued over items and got into scuffles,” she laughed.

“Celebrities like Paul Harragon and some of the original Knights used to come out to launch the Christmas tree, and there was visits from Big Dog and Miss Kim.”

Kmart was owned by the American arm of the business in the early days and Michelle recalls the US owners strutting around in their big 10-gallon hats when they came on their annual visit.

Kmart became Kmart-Australia in the mid-70s and linked with Coles, and there’s been many changes since, according Michelle.

“I used to manage 16 cash registers and the staff out the front of Kmart, but people don’t use cash as much these days, although we still have our regulars. We used to have a cafeteria in Kmart and an independent Auto shop and Gardening. We sold white-goods at supermarket prices. The Super-K trend came and went where you could buy groceries and variety in the same Kmart shop.”

Kmart has more than 200 stores across Australia and New Zealand and employs approximately 30,000 team members who mainly work in the retail stores.

Kmart’s vision is to provide families with everyday products at the lowest prices.

Though many things have changed over the 50 years, Michelle’s greatest memory is the people she’s met each day on the job and worked with.

“It’s a tribute to the Village and Coles and Kmart to be here for 50 years on the same site, particularly in times like these when you’re reminded how lucky you are to have a job.”

From the heart

“The Waratah Village Shopping Centre has remained the town centre for the community of Waratah and surrounding suburbs and has retained the ‘Village Aspect’ during the course of many upgrades and refurbishments over the years,” a spokesperson for the Village owners said.

“This strategy will continue to be the focus far into the future. The Waratah Village provides the community with a strong and diverse range of everyday shopping needs, combined with excellent facilities and a safe environment. The Waratah Village engages the community with our annual Christmas Lights Switch-On, now in its 20th year.

“Community groups come together to provide entertainment and food offerings whilst raising money for their relevant organisations.

“On occasions the Waratah Village have partnered with the Newcastle Men’s Shed in the refurbishment of the light display ensuring the light spectacle continues for many years to come.

“Due to Covid restrictions on crowds and public events we are not able to conduct the very public ‘Count Down’ in 2020 as we have in all previous years. The lights will be switched-on Friday, 6th November and we would encourage people to view the lights over the two months they will be on.

Waratah Village remains committed to the ongoing success of its retail tenants and the valued association with the community of Waratah.

Kmart Waratah 50 years

Kmart-Waratah celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, having opened on October 3rd 1970



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