Customers queue to hit the shops in Preston on the first day of business for three months

Come on down - we're open for business again!

Monday, 15th June 2020, 12:47 pm
Updated Monday, 15th June 2020, 12:48 pm

That was the resounding call from Lancashire's high streets and retail parks this morning as the coronavirus lockdown was finally lifted for all shops in England after an unprecedented three-month closure.

Long queues formed outside stores like Primark and Sports Direct in Preston as pent-up shoppers went in search of their first taste of retail therapy since March 23.

And, while not all businesses threw open their doors today - Debenhams in the city centre are not expected to join in until later this week - there were still plenty of stores back up and running for those customers desperate to get spending again.

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Shoppers queued from 7.30am to get into Preston's Fishergate Shopping Centre.

"We want people to come into Preston," said the city council's chief executive Adrian Phillips. "It is really good to see the city centre busy again. It is good to see economic activity back, with lots of shops open and busy.

"Obviously safety comes first. But we are encouraging people to come in and spend their money and enjoy being in the city centre because businesses need people to spend money to survive and flourish and that's what we want to happen."

People were standing in line outside the Fishergate Shopping Centre as early as 7.30am - a full 90 minutes before the shutters went up.

Donna O'Melia from Ribbleton was first in the queue. She said: "We've been here since 7.30 waiting for the centre to open for Primark.

Many customers made a beeline for Primark in Preston because the company does not offer online shopping.

"There were quite a lot of people down here waiting. It's lovely to get out and about instead of being stuck at home."

Primark does not offer online shopping, so customers can only buy in-store.

While queuing is something of a British pastime, shoppers are being warned to expect even more as stores operate strict social distancing measures in the wake of Covid-19.

At the Fishergate Centre the line had snaked round the corner and down Butler Street by the time it opened at 9am.

Last minute social distancing measures are put in place.

At Preston's St George's Shopping Centre visitors were greeted by security guards in protective visors explaining how social distancing would work inside, with many stores setting up their own queues to limit the numbers of shoppers inside at any one time.

Keith Mitchell, the general manager of the Fishergate Centre, said: "We have made some changes which we hope shoppers will understand. It is for their benefit and to keep them safe.

"We have separate access and exit points, we have got sanitiser units on the public mall and we have social distancing in front of all the stores to keep the shoppers and the staff safe."

On Deepdale Retail Park long queues formed outside the Sports Direct store before opening to take advantage of a 50 per cent off sale for NHS workers which runs just for today.

While food stores, banks, pharmacies and other essential businesses have remained open throughout the last three months, non-essential shops selling things like clothes, books, electronics, furniture and toys have had to wait until today to start trading again.

Like the supermarkets they have had to guarantee they will conform to social distancing rules before they can open their doors. Numbers of customers are being limited in-store, protective screens have been erected at tills and markers have been laid down on the floor to advise people how to keep their distance.

Preston Business Improvement District (BID), which represents more than 800 businesses in Preston city centre, set up a stall on the Flag Market to hand out free face masks and also made hand santisers available at various points around the city centre.

BID's Olivia Riley-Oakes said: "What we want to do is encourage shoppers to come back into Preston city centre as safely as possible."

Adrian Phillips added: "We know coronavirus has not disappeared, so the first thing people need to do is take care of themselves and take care of other people.

"So social distancing and hand hygiene are the most important things for everybody."