Published: 11:20, 24 March 2021
| Updated: 20:02, 24 March 2021
It's been a long time coming, but Sainsbury's finally opened the doors on its new store in Staplehurst this morning.
The company first submitted a planning application 10 years ago in 2011, but there were delays, first caused by Tesco proposing a rival store a few hundreds yards away, then by the recession and later by Covid.
Staplehurst Sainsbury's opens its doors after 10-year wait
But the new store is now open and customers seemed delighted.
First in line was a shopper from Cranbrook who arrived at 8.15am - 45 minutes early.
The lady, who asked not to be named, said she had moved to the Weald from the City and found the choice of shops locally really restrictive. She was delighted to now have a Sainsbury's - which she said was her favourite retailer - within an accessible distance.
Next in line was Debbie Lloyd-Smith from Staplehurst who was even more excited.
She said: "I can literally walk to the store. Previously I've had to travel to Maidstone, Tenterden or even Paddock Wood for my supermarket shopping."
Third through the door was Mary Smith, also from Staplehurst. She admitted that she had come without a shopping list that day, but was just keen to have a look round. She said: "I've been following its progress closely over the years. It's great that it's finally here."
By the time the store opened at 9am, there were 160 customers in a well-ordered socially distanced queue, but shoppers continued to arrive.
The store was officially opened by Cllr Paddy Riordan, chairman of Staplehurst Parish Council who cut a ribbon in the store's car park.
He said: “The communication with the parish council on this store has been excellent and has helped us to keep residents informed throughout the build.
"The whole Sainsbury’s team have been a pleasure to work with throughout the project and they have been very keen to address any concerns we raised. Very well done to everyone involved.”
Cllr Louise Brice (Con), one of the two ward councillors for Staplehurst, said: “I’m thrilled to see the doors finally open and that so many residents have secured jobs with such a responsible employer.
"This supermarket is a real boost to the local community and is providing many opportunities that villagers will benefit from.”
The first 500 customers through the door each received a commemorative re-usable shopping bag with an image created by six-year-old Eden Beevor, from Staplehurst, who won a competition for schoolchildren to design the bag.
The 18,000 sq ft supermarket has created 120 jobs, with 75% of the employees coming from Staplehurst itself.
The store manager is Kwadwo Osei who personally greeted the first customers through the doors.
He said: "My team and I are delighted to offer local residents a new shopping experience that gives them convenience alongside quality and low prices.”
The store includes a fresh food market, bakery, self-serve patisserie, hot food and pizza counter, plus an Argos store.
It is the first supermarket opened by the retail chain this year.
There are 17 tills and eight self-service checkouts but customers can also download Sainsbury's SmartShop app, which gives shoppers the option to skip the checkout queues by scanning and packing products as they move around the shop.
The car park has room for 171 vehicles and includes electric charging points.
Sainsbury’s property director, Patrick Dunne, said: “We’re very pleased to open the doors and share this much-anticipated store with the local community.
"We have created over 120 jobs and I’m especially proud that we’re welcoming a number of young people from the village who are entering the workforce for the first time.
"Thank you Staplehurst for your support and patience as we delivered this store safely and efficiently.”
The store will open from 8am till 10pm Monday to Saturday, and 10am to 4pm on Sundays.