Shops reopen: Long queues as high streets and shopping centres welcome back customers

Huge queues of people formed in high streets and shopping centres as shops pulled up their shutters for the first time since March.

Hundreds of people queue at Primark in Birmingham which has reopened today
Hundreds of people queue at Primark in Birmingham which has reopened today

Hundreds of people were queued up outside the flagship Primark store in Birmingham city centre forcing it to open its doors early.

It came as people enjoyed morning sunshine to queue outside Wolverhampton's own Primark ahead of opening today.

And there was brisk trade in the Mander Centre, in the city centre, as many non-essential shops reopened for the first time in weeks.

People had to queue in front of many shops before they entered

Town centres across the region have placed markings on the pavements, barriers and other measures to help people stay safe.

Wolverhampton welcomes back shoppers

Shoppers returned to Wolverhampton city centre following three months of lockdown to look for a bargain and get their shopping done.

Demand for bargains saw some stores gather massive queues prior to opening, with people queueing outside JD Sports and Primark from 6am until opening.

Debra Routledge from Merry Hill had been one of the shoppers waiting in line at Primark and said she had been excited to get back in there.

People have continued to queue for Sports Direct in Wolverhampton city centre

She said: "I think they've done everything they can to make sure the shops are safe, which is good as I can see it getting really busy in there."

Work had been done by Wolverhampton Council to ensure Dudley Street was a safe place to shop, including two-metre spacing lines, hand sanitiser stations throughout the centres and protective screens in stores.

Shoppers make their way back into Wolverhampton city centre as non essential shops reopen after lockdown
Mander Centre manager Richard Scharenguivel has pleased to welcome back shoppers

Both the Mander Centre and Wulfrun Centre had also worked with store holders to ensure safety measures were put into place.

Mander Centre manager Richard Scharenguivel said the reception from shop owners had been good and said he was pleased to see the centre beginning to reopen.

He said: "I think they're pleased to reopen and they want to reopen safely as we all do and they're looking forward to welcoming customers back to Wolverhampton.

"I'm looking forward to today and it's been a long time in the planning, so we're quite excited to see the centre back open with more stores."

Video games and software store CEX in the Wulfrun Centre was one of the stores operating a limited number of people in store policy, with no more than eight people allowed at any one time.

Richard Evans, manager of Cex in the Mander Centre, was delighted that shoppers were returning today

Store Manager Russell Evans explained how the store had been preparing for reopening to the public.

He said: "We've made sure staff all have the appropriate level of PPE and have added sneeze guards to the services desks, as well as adding plenty of signage to help people.

"We feel appropriately protected and at a point where we can serve the public safely, so we hope to see more people coming through the doors and feeling comfortable being here."

Shoppers in the Mander Centre said they were pleased to feel a sense of normality through being able to shop there.

Salome Palmer from Wolverhampton said: "It's good to be able to come here and have somewhere to go, somewhere to browse and meet up with a friend if you want to."

David and Sally Howells from Tettenhall were among those to be shopping today in Wolverhampton

David Howells from Tettenhall had been shopping with his wife Sarah and spoke about how the city centre needed to be able to welcome people back again.

He said: "The city centre has been slipping away for a long time, so it's really important to me to see places reopening and people back out shopping again."

For store owners in the city centre, the lifting of restrictions was an opportunity to see more customers and began function as businesses again.

Ashok Patel, manager of Nicklemen in the Mander Centre, is overjoyed as shoppers return

Ashok Patel, owner of Nicklemen clothes shop, said: "I anticipate us being very busy in the next few weeks and I think my new stock will sell quickly when people come back in."

The proprietor of Michael Kirk's Butchers, Michael Bachyk, said that while the shop had been able to operate during lockdown, it would be good to see more customers come back.

He said: "It's been very quiet over the last few months, but I look forward to seeing more people back here and back in the city centre to help rejuvenate it."

Mickael Bachyk, of Michael Kirk Butchers, is happy to see the footfall increase

Independent businesses were noticing their trade was busier too.

Allan Bennett, owner of Allan Bennett Butchers in Codsall, said: "I've been a lot busier as people can ring up and place an order and it will be ready for them in a bag when they get here.

"It's organised down to the ground.

"Every Friday and Saturday there's a queue down the street because of the two-metre distancing."

And over in Penkridge, Lucy Follows at Lavender Florist said the first day of reopening had been "a bit ridiculous".

She said: "We've been doing deliveries ever since we've been allowed to but this was the first day the shop has been open for people to browse.

"It was a bit ridiculous, a bit manic – we have had lots of people and it's been great to see them. But we've had a restriction on numbers inside, stickers on the floor, screens, hand sanitiser.

"We've been very fortunate we've been able to get lots of work during lockdown, but we had a skeleton staff then. Now we've got people back off furlough it's starting to get manageable."

WATCH: Queues of eager Merry Hill shoppers

Merry Hill was packed with shoppers today as people flocked to big name stores including Primark.

Dudley Council leader, Councillor Patrick Harley, said of shoppers returning too the Brierley Hill centre and other high streets: "We are already seeing an increase in the numbers of people coming to town centres and shops are doing what they can to get people to queue and socially distance at the same time.

If people come to the town centres with friends and family or gather in large groups, that not only makes this an impossible task, it also puts themselves and others under much greater risk.

"We are a long way off the point where shopping is a leisure activity again, it is very much still about keeping safe."

It comes despite some uncertainty for centre owners intu which were set to have crisis talks with lenders last week with the shadow of a potential administration looming.

Even before lockdown intu saw losses widen from £1.2 billion in 2018 and was forced to write down the value of its shopping centre sites and properties by £1.9 billion after recent retail sector woes.

Intu took complete ownership of the centre in June 2016 after buying out Australian investment group QIC in a £410m deal for its 50 per cent stake.

At that time the Merry Hill was worth around £890m. But the market value of the Brierley Hill shopping centre has now dropped to £587.6m.

Business almost as usual in Birmingham

Queues formed at stores across the city as thousands of non-essential shops welcome shoppers back in warm sunshine

Long lines were seen at the city's Primark, its largest store in the world, as shoppers waited patiently outside.

There were around 200 people outside the store by around 7am in the high street, leaving bosses little option but to open doors ahead of the 8am official shutter-up.

Shoppers leaving Primark in Birmingham as non-essential shops in England open their doors to customers
The huge queue outside Primark in Birmingham which reopened to customers today
People had been queueing from up to two hours before the official opening of Primark in Birmingham

New Street was busy this morning with reports of busy tills at many of the clothes shops and high street chains reopening today.

There were long queues to get into Selfridges inside the Bullring ahead of the department store reopening at 11am.

Queues snaked around the inside of Bullring which welcomed shoppers with a tweet saying: "We are reopen, and it feels good to be back!"

Meanwhile the chairman of struggling shopping centre owner Hammerson has announced he will quit on the same day its sites, including Birmingham’s Bullring and Grand Central, reopened non-food stores for the first time since lockdown.

David Tyler said he would quit no later than October 1 and be replaced by former Land Securities chief executive Rob Noel, the company confirmed.

The decision comes less than a month after chief executive David Atkins quit, following years of over-expansion which has left the business with a massive financial black hole.

Government insists 'it's safe to shop'

Small business minister Paul Scully insisted it is safe to shop, noting the new looks many stores will have as they attempt to ensure social distancing and good hygiene among staff and customers.

He told reporters: "The high street is going to be a different place to what it was before, with the one-way systems, with the hand sanitisers, and with people not trying clothes on in the same way.

"But, nonetheless, it is safe to shop. I would encourage people to be sensible, work with the people in the shop but do go out and shop, and start opening our economy gradually and carefully."

The reopening comes as a survey suggested less than half of people feel comfortable returning to clothes shops.

Results of YouGov polling carried out earlier this month suggested just 40% of people were comfortable to go back into such stores, and only 48% think they would be able to stay the required two metres away from other shoppers.

Some 41% of people said they believe it is about the right time for the shops to reopen, but 39% said it was too soon.

Oliver Rowe, director of reputation research at YouGov - which carried out four surveys between June 2 and 11 on between 1,700 and 4,000 people, said the results show "there is a lot of work to be done yet to convince shoppers that it's business as usual".

Meanwhile, commuters were pictured wearing masks at London's Waterloo station as face coverings on public transport became mandatory.

Zoos and safari parks are also welcoming back visitors on Monday, places of worship can open for private prayer while some secondary school pupils will begin returning to their classrooms.

With official figures showing the economy shrank by a fifth in April, ministers are desperate to get businesses going again to stave off another wave of job losses.

WATCH: PM Boris Johnson on shops reopening

Boris Johnson said he did not know whether to expect "a flood or a trickle" when the shops reopened but that he hoped people would return in "sensible" numbers.

Visiting Westfield shopping centre in east London on Sunday, the Prime Minister acknowledged some people may be nervous about returning to the high street after so long away but insisted they "should shop and shop with confidence".

Chancellor Rishi Sunak - who is reported to be considering a VAT cut to stimulate spending - acknowledged further redundancies were inevitable as the Government's furlough scheme begins to unwind.

"There is going to be hardship ahead. People are going to lose their jobs," he said.

Ministers are under intense pressure from Conservative MPs to go further by easing the two-metre social distancing rule so the hard-pressed hospitality sector can also reopen.

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