A smouldering vacuum cleaner forced the evacuation of part of Wollongong Central shopping centre just before 5pm yesterday.
Fire and Rescue NSW crews were called to the centre after smoke alarms were triggered in the upper level of the southern building.
Retail assistant Sophie Kozul was working in Valleygirl when the drama unfolded across from the store in Cotton On Body.
"It was pretty bad, it was all smoky," she said.
Ms Kozul said a vacuum cleaner had been blamed for the incident.
Alarms were triggered and the centre was evacuated until fire crews could clear the scene.