Published: 09:00, 12 April 2021
| Updated: 17:02, 14 April 2021
Shoppers have flocked to town centres today as large swathes of the economy finally reopen following the latest lockdown.
Non-essential retailers, pubs and restaurants with outdoor seating, hairdressers and gyms - all are once again able to welcome back customers after months of enforced closure.
Bev Palmer, daughter Rebecca Winter and granddaughter Lily Winter arrived at Primark in Maidstone at 8am this morning and were delighted to see no queues - although by 9am people were waiting in line outside the Week Street store.
The family shopped for summer clothes and were next planning on heading to book store Waterstones after that.
Rebecca said: "It's been really nice, we've really been looking forward to it."
At the bookshop in Fremlin Walk, lead bookseller Catherine Osbourne said regulars of 15 years were among some of the shoppers this morning.
"We had about three or four people waiting in a line when we arrived," she said.
"We had one little girl, she ran into the door this morning she was so excited to go in. Her mum said it was the only shop she wanted to come to.
"We have had a lot of families, what with it being half term, a lot of people looking to get their children back into books. Children are very tactile, they want to be able to pick a book up before buying it."
Amelie Penrose, manager at the London Nail Company in the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre in Tunbridge Wells, told us she is "over the moon" to be back in business today.
She said: "We are so looking forward to seeing all of our regular clients, I think we are going to be really busy."
Another business reopening today in Royal Victoria Place is Buzz Barbers, where people eager for a trim of their lockdown locks were queuing from 8.30am.
Manager Billy Fowler said: "It's been a long time coming really, it's just nice to finally have the amount of people waiting for us, customer-wise.
"We've had about eight months off this year, so to get back to what we love doing is nice."
Dennis Edwards was one of those waiting for a haircut in Union Street, Maidstone, this morning.
The 80-year-old says he is delighted non-essential shops are reopening, adding: "It's good that everything is getting back to normal again."
Liam Shepherd was at the front of the queue at Adam's Barber on Week Street this morning before returning to work in a pub.
The 18-year-old, who works at The Brenchley, said: "I need a haircut before I go back to work. I have been on furlough for the past four months, but I'm going back today."
In Tunbridge Wells Amit Gupta and Susie Hughes had grabbed coffee after registering the birth of baby Ayla, who was born on March 8.
Amit said: "We have just been to register the birth of our baby so we got a few celebratory coffees, we thought it would be nice to have some that haven't been made in our kitchen.
"We're going to have a wander around to see what's open and we might pop our heads into a few clothes shops."
While a lot changes from today, social distancing rules still apply, so businesses have had to work hard to make sure they are Covid secure.
The rule-of-six or two households limit for meeting outdoors also remains in place.
For one salon in Maidstone, today is not only a time to celebrate the easing of lockdown restrictions, but also its first ever day of trading.
Simon Best, 40, has spent the last four weeks preparing the finishing touches to Space SB in Union Street, a new salon which doubles up as a VIP space for people to feel pampered while they wait for their haircut.
Mr Best, who lives in Rochester, set up the businesses after years of working in salons as a way of saying thank you to his loyal customers.
He added: "It's not a traditional salon, it's a bit different.
"We have a seating area with a TV, a coffee station and a place for customers to have their back massaged while they are having their hair shampooed.
"Out of the disaster of Covid I've created something special."
The salon is in a converted loft space above the Hairy Bear barber shop.
Elsewhere in the County Town, managing director of Pickwick Jewellers and Pawnbrokers, Nathan Finch, admitted he has been delighted with the amount of customers they had.
"If necessary, we may even extend our hours, now there's more people coming in," said Mr Finch of the Week Street business.
"I think that's something some businesses may need to do.
"We have been pleasantly surprised with the number of customers we have had in this early after lockdown."
Mr Finch was also pleased all staff are now back working again from the start of this week following the latest easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
"It is nice to have everyone back in. For us, it is really nice to be retailing again," he said.
"As a local Maidstone business, we are delighted to see the town busy."
Another person delighted by the busy scenes in the town centre was Kristian Van Haeften, owner of the fruit stall in Earl Street, who hopes the reopening of non-essential shops will kickstart his business as retail workers as well as shoppers make up a big part of his business.
He said: "I haven't earnt any money since September, just covering the cost of the stall. This is busier than it was in Christmas week."
Seb Crocker was among the people in the queue at King Barber on Week Street waiting for a trim.
"It's been ages since I last got it cut," he said. "I have probably been here queueing for about 20 minutes.
"I've not had a haircut in about four or five months, so it'll be good to get it done."
The 18-year-old, who is from Maidstone said it's nice to see the town busy once again.
"It's a bit weird to see but most shops are open and I think everyone is just excited," he said.
In Tunbridge Wells, Matt Keynes who is manager at The Cake Shed cafe, said: "We have been open for takeaway all throughout but it's nice to have a good buzz around the place.
The Pantiles has been desolate at times but now it is great to see it busy. It's nice to be able to make use of the outside area too."
Jane Gordon, 69, from Crowborough, said: "We've come out for lunch which is a nice change.
"It's so nice to go out unplanned and see people everywhere. We've already done our shopping so it's been nice."
Managing director of Golden Boot in Maidstone, Edward Martin, said: "We have been really busy this morning and absolutely thrilled to have our loyal community of customers back into the store.
"We have launched a booking appointment for children and that's full booked this week.
"After the challenge of last year it's just great to have the doors open again."
It was last week that Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the second part of the 'roadmap to freedom' could be followed as planned.
We will be covering today's big reopening both here on KentOnline and via our social media channels, using the hashtag #MaidstoneIsOpen to help our town centre traders connect with our readers.
New outdoor seating for socially-distanced meals and drinks? Special offers on post-lockdown haircuts? New equipment in the gym?
Whatever it may be, we want to tell our readers all about it as we encourage people to breathe life into our town centres once again.
Gifts and gadgets retailer Menkind, which has stores in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, has a competition to win a £500 gadget bundle in every shop and also a 'welcome back' sale on a number of products.
If you want to let us know what you have planned this week, then either tweet @KM_newsroom with the hashtag, send us a message on Facebook or email email@example.com with details.
Additional reporting by Katie Heslop, Thomas Reeves and Liane Castle