Published: 16:31, 12 April 2021
| Updated: 16:45, 12 April 2021
Crowds have been rushing into one of Kent's largest shopping centres as non-essential stores reopen - with bosses reporting a day of bumper trading.
The Ashford Designer Outlet usually welcomes 10,000 customers each day but has been eerily empty for months.
However today's crowds show shoppers are eager to return and get their hands on products from top brands.
Peter Corr, the centre's manager, said: "Today's been great, so far compared to this Monday in 2019 we're actually up 49% on traffic so a lot more people have come out.
"They've been trapped indoors for the last few months so this is their chance to go out and come back to our centre.
"But it's doing better than I expected - I expected it to be the same, if not slightly higher because of the pent-up demand, but to be 49% or 50% up is a huge increase."
A lot of work has been completed to ensure people remain safe, with staff putting out queue barriers and painting feet on the floor to show where people should queue and how far apart they should be.
Mr Corr says days like today are "massively important" for the local economy, and that a consistent demand will lead to more jobs being saved and created in Ashford.
One Outlet shopper, Gavin Farnham, praised the preparation that had gone into creating a safe shopping experience.
"It's been a good day, we've been to about 10 shops and I feel pretty safe in the centre," he said.
"There are sanitising stations at each shop, people are keeping a good distance and the staff are doing a good job in making sure people stick to the rules.
"While we have been doing online shopping, I like going into shops and trying things on.
"We also just had Five Guys and just to be able to eat out again is a great thing."
Elsewhere, on Ashford's high street, the town feels alive again, with long queues building outside the many hairdressers and barbers.
The YMCA charity shop in the Park Mall shopping centre has had a bumper day, with a flood of customers throughout.
One visitor was Stephanie Chapman, YMCA's retail area manager for the south east.
"So far, this has been the easiest opening as we know what is expected because of Covid, as do our customers," she said.
"The volunteers have been chomping at the bit to get back in and it seems as if it's been well-received.
"It's going to be a great week for retail in general, with both the staff and shoppers being really excited for the slight return to freedom."