MONKS Cross retail park is preparing to welcome its 50 millionth customer as the shopping centre celebrates its 15th anniversary.

The retail park, which opened on September 19, 1998, is now home to 33 businesses and employs about 1,000 people.

To mark the milestone anniversary a weekend of celebrations has been organised for September 14 and 15 including giveaways and competitions, with the arrival of the 50 millionth customer set to see the presentation of £500-worth of vouchers.

Over the last 15 years the retail park has seen a turnover of 11 stores and a placing in the top five retail parks in the UK.

Going forward, sights are set on the number one spot, according to centre manager Katherine Sharp.

Mrs Sharp, who has managed Monks Cross since it opened in 1998, said the last 15 years had brought high and lows, but the future was looking promising for the park.

She said: “Monks Cross was based on the Fort in Birmingham, which is very much an industrial area, and that’s what they thought Monks Cross would be.

“One of the first lettings was to PC World, but soon after that Arcadia Leisure Group took a huge block and it developed into much more of a fashion park.

“It was very difficult at the start for people to get used to a late-night shopping area. At 5pm at night the whole place was empty.

“That was a massive challenge. It was all about trying to work with the city centre and complement them with what they were trying to achieve.

“We still see it now as York and the wider offering, and both Monks Cross and the city centre is part of that offering. Getting that across early on was very difficult.

“I think with the feedback we have got it’s not seen like them and us any more.” Mrs Sharp said the key to the future for Monks Cross was overcoming internet shopping trends with exceptional customer service and an offering that meets shoppers’ demands.

She said: “When people shop on the internet they don’t get that face-to-face interaction. When you get that right you are on to a winner.

“As part of our anniversary celebrations we are holding MXcellence Awards. We are asking customers to vote for exceptional customer service, with prizes for the winning staff member and the person who voted for them.”

Customer research earlier this year showed that shoppers visit Monks Cross on average 33 times a year, with most calling in once a week.

Last month City of York Council approved a revamp of the shopping centre allowing for smaller units to be knocked into larger ones in preparation for the arrival of Primark and Debenhams.

During the anniversary weekend shoppers are being offered 15 per cent off on the Saturday.