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M&S at Eclipse Park in Maidstone opens its door to the first customers

There wasn't the razamataz of balloons and ribbon-cutting that usually accompanies the opening of a new store - thanks to Covid 19.

Instead the first customers at M&S at Eclipse Park in Maidstone this morning were personally greeted by store manager Andre Brincat, wearing a face visor.

Manager Andre Brincat greets customers at the door
Manager Andre Brincat greets customers at the door

Queues were relatively modest - with many customers staying in their cars with the air-conditioning running until the last moment. The store opened at 9am and by three minutes past, everyone was inside. Some 58 people had entered via the door for the home and clothing department and slightly fewer via the door for the food store.

Irene Scannell and Stephanie Clarke were the first in line, they started queuing at 8.25am. Neither had come very far - Mrs Scannell from Fauchons Lane in Bearsted and Mrs Clarke from Meadow Walk in Maidstone.

Mrs Scannell said she was not shopping for anything special but "just wanted to see what's like."

She said: "I can't wait for the doors to open - it's been a long time coming."

Mrs Clarke said she just wanted to support M&S - both her children work for the company.

First in line for the Home and Clothing department: Irene Scannell left and Stephanie Clarke
First in line for the Home and Clothing department: Irene Scannell left and Stephanie Clarke

Next was Sue Saunders from Penenden Heath, who usually shops at M&S in the Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre near Rainham, and was hoping to switch to the Maidstone store. Her daughter Diane said: "I'm excited - I've been keeping an eye on Kent Online waiting to see when it would open."

Heather Wormold was third in line. From Grove Green, she usually shops at M&S at Bluewater, but in future said she would becoming to Eclipse Park.

Helen McHale was another who usually shops at Bluewater, but in future would stay in Maidstone - especially as the new M&S is only "30 seconds away" from her home in Sittingbourne Road.

She was hoping for a better range of clothing than used to be available at the M&S womenswear store in Week Street, that had recently closed.

She was accompanied by daughter Beth McHale and grandson Ozdon McHale, whose reason for coming, he said, was: "I was dragged along."

Also at the opening were Tom Hamlyn and Sam Stafford from Brookerflynn architects, who had designed the interior of the store.

They declared themselves "delighted" with the way things had turned out.

Mr Hamlyn explained that customers would find some differences from the old style M&S.

The food hall for example had been created to a "renewal" concept, that involved more illuminated signage and lower counters to create a market feel.

Stephen and Lyndsey Gallagher were also present. Gallaghers is the Maidstone-based building and quarrying company that sold the site to M&S and built the store for them.

Mr Gallagher said: "The Gallagher Group is very proud that the new store is now open and trading.

"The development was led by Gallagher Properties from conception to reality, and supported throughout by our Construction, Aggregates and Masonry companies.

"The scheme showcases the truly integrated Gallagher approach and we are grateful to the team for delivering such an exceptional development.

"We are especially proud of the finish of the store, including a wide variety of dressed and polished Kentish ragstone from our Hermitage Quarry.

"We welcome M&S to Eclispe Park and are sure it will be a popular local landmark for many years to come."

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