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First look inside flagship M&S store which opens tomorrow at Eclipse Park in Maidstone

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Shoppers are counting down the hours to the opening of the county's newest M&S store, so we though we'd give you an exclusive sneak preview.

The flagship shop at Eclipse Park in Maidstone flings wide its doors to the public at 9am tomorrow and is the biggest M&S store in the south east apart from the one at Bluewater.

It has 62,000 sq ft of retail space, and is the the largest the company has opened anywhere this year.

Andre Brincat is the store manager and he invited KentOnline in today for an exclusive look round before the big opening day tomorrow.

Mr Brincat has more than 11 years' experience with the company, the last few years he has been the manager of its Eastbourne branch, he is eager to show Maidstone shoppers what he has to offer.

He said: "As soon as customers walk in they will know they're in for something special. We have the bakery at the front of the store and they will be greeted with the lovely smell of fresh bread."

Further inside, customers will be tempted with a choice of an astonishing 5,500 different product lines.

The frontage of the M&S store at Eclipse Park
The frontage of the M&S store at Eclipse Park

The clothing department is designed on a "boutique system" which means that sales racks and furniture are discreet and kept at a minimum to allow the products to speak for themselves.

There are separate women's, men's and children's departments, with Mr Brincat stressing he wanted the store to appeal to the whole family.

The food hall emphasises freshness and value, with Mr Brincat proudly claiming: "We have the mind of a supermarket but the soul of a market."

A novelty that will amuse younger visitors - and possibly older ones too - are the interactive boards in the differing sections, so that if a child presses a button by the eggs he or she will hear a hen clucking, and by the milk, a cow mooing.

The store has 120 staff ready to serve - all of them previous employees of M&S at other locations.

Manager Andre Brincat was delighted to demonstrate the sound of chickens clucking
Manager Andre Brincat was delighted to demonstrate the sound of chickens clucking

They include a number of staff from the recently closed branch in Maidstone's Week Street.

Mr Brincat said: "We totted it up and between us we have more than 800 years of retail experience!

"We are really excited. We’ll be working hard to provide outstanding service and to help make every penny count for the community.

“We’re really looking forward to welcoming our shoppers and we will have measures in place to reflect the latest government Covid guidelines to ensure everyone can shop safely and with peace of mind.”

The measures include screens around the tills, social distancing, and the number of people entering the store controlled by "hosts" to ensure the building doesn't become too crowded.

Inside the new M&S store at Eclipse Park
Inside the new M&S store at Eclipse Park

Initially, the changing rooms will not be open to try on clothes

If the shopping becomes too much, customers can treat themselves to a rest in the 130-seat cafe, which will serve breakfast and lunches.

Fans of M&S have had a long wait. They were first told the new store was coming in October 2017. Work started in July last year. The company is said to have invested £25m in the project.

It seems certain the store will be deluged with customers wishing to explore, but in case any need a further incentive, M&S will be giving one loyalty card customer per day, picked out at random, their shopping for free for each of the first seven days.

There is a click and collect service for the stores's clothing and home products, where customers can opt for next day pick-up when they order online at M&S.com

Inside the new M&S store at Eclipse Park
Inside the new M&S store at Eclipse Park

The store has 260 parking spaces, free for four hours. There are a small number of electric car re-charging bays.

From Thursday onwards, the store will be from 8am till 9pm Monday to Saturday, and from 10.30am to 4.30pm on Sunday.

Electric vehicles welcome
Electric vehicles welcome

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