Swindon shoppers welcomed the return of non-essential shops this month with a spending spree.
Customers eager to splash the cash helped traders in the town have a busier week than pre-pandemic as retailers welcomed back customers for the first time this year.
Independent entrepreneurs and chain store staff alike hope this rush to return to brick-and-mortar businesses will continue.
The April bright sunshine has helped encourage people to venture outdoors to visit stores in person.
Over the weekend, the good weather shone over Regent Street and Canal Walk as a steady stream of shoppers flowed through the town centre, with some stopping to relax on benches and in coffee shops.
Outdoor tables for cafes on the Parade filled with customers.
The bank Revolut analysed data of 4,000 of its Swindon customers between April 12 and 18 then compared it to the average weekly spend in February 2020.
They spent 163 per cent more on average last week than normal, according to their data – with TK Maxx the most popular shop.
The first day of trading saw even higher levels of spending, with 216 per cent more spent than on the average Monday in February of last year.
Waterstones bookseller Debi Phillips said: “It was amazing, we’re so happy to be back and talking to people about books again because customers like that face-to-face experience.
“It was so busy and it was nice to be back with a bang. There was positive energy and enthusiasm from shoppers and businesses, everyone’s excited that things are open again, so the town centre as a whole is definitely on the up.
“There are some fantastic indie shops here, and even in the big chains there are still local people working there and giving it a local flavour.
“We don’t compete with the indies, we work with them to get the message out that the town centre is a nice place to visit.”
The Forum clothes shop manager Andy Knight said: “There’s a completely different vibe, people are more confident and happy to buy things because there’s less doom and gloom about the chance of another lockdown.
“Our customers come in just to see us so we’re good. There’s a spike in footfall and I don’t think it will go anywhere for the rest of the year, though we’re taking it week by week.
“The empty shops are still an issue but we’re focusing on driving traffic to the shop via social media and giving people a reason to come into town, which is the customer experience.”
Among the familiar faces were a few newer arrivals who had set up shop in the middle of a pandemic.
Wanda Asila and Tracy Semakula of African cuisine takeaway Divine Contract Caterers opened in-between Indy’s Vegan Kitchen and Franklin’s in The Crossing in September.
Wanda said: “Opening a business at any time is a risk but it’s been okay. People have been receptive and experimental with us.
“It was just picking up before lockdown after a very slow few months as people who weren’t familiar with us started spreading the word and coming back more often.
“They’re glad to see us again and we’re glad to see them. People are coming in and once the seating comes back, that will help even more, so we’re hopeful.”
However, not everywhere in the town centre was seeing a sudden rush of post-lockdown customers.
Anne McCulloch reopened Sweets Galore in December, just before the third lockdown arrived, and is eager to let people know she’s back in business.
She said: “It’s been quiet as I’m the only retailer on this part of the upstairs Brunel so I don’t get as much traffic passing, though a lot of people are in the high street.
“It will be nice to see my regular customers again. Many of them are elderly and enjoy the nostalgia of seeing the old-fashioned sweets in the jars.
“Some of the sweets are gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan. I want to cater for everyone so they can have a try, leave with something they enjoy and come back for more.”