HUNDREDS of non-essential shops reopened yesterday for the first time since March.

The Mall Blackburn, Blackburn Market and a number of other stores in the town centre, including Marks & Spencer, unlocked their doors and pulled their shutters up, as retailers across the region began to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown.

Long queues formed outside Sports Direct in Blackburn as the retailer was offering a whopping 50 per cent discount to NHS staff, while customers also queued outside Primark and H&M to get their long-awaited fashion fixes.

Naomi Livesey was out shopping in Primark and said people were just happy to be doing something normal again.

She said: “I originally came to town for the Black Lives Matter protest but it was cancelled so I thought I’d just do a bit of shopping.

“I managed to walk straight in to Primark and didn’t have to queue at all.

“I feel fine being out shopping to be honest, it just feels normal in a weird way, apart from it being quieter.

“I don’t feel nervous or anxious at all but I think it would be a different experience for those who were more vulnerable.

“I’m just happy to be out really.

“There’s nothing in particular I’m looking to buy, maybe a few things I can’t get online, but it’s just good to be out and getting back to some normality.”

Understandably, The Mall was a lot quieter than it would usually be on a Monday afternoon but the new social distancing system seemed to be operating quite smoothly, with security staff at each entrance communicating via radio and assessing capacity within the building before allowing more people to enter.

One way stickers had been placed on the walkways and signs directing shoppers where to walk and queue had also been erected.

Debenhams store manager, Scott Rimmer said: “I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how everyone has been coping with the social distancing measures.

“This morning we were gearing up for people not being able to get their heads around the measures but everyone we’ve seen so far has been respectful and has been keeping their distance.

“We’ve been having a lot of banter with customers too. I think most people are just happy to be out, happy that we’re open and happy to get some normality back.

“Most people have said they feel comfortable and reassured with the measures put in place, and I know all the staff are pleased to be back working too.”

Meanwhile, Blackburn Market was pretty quiet compared to the usual hustle and bustle that would surround the food stalls on a Monday lunchtime.

Despite this, traders were being glad to be back.

Tom Wood, who runs the Artisan Butchers, said he’d been selling his produce online throughout lockdown, but was pleased to be back open again.

He said: “It’s been like a normal Monday so far to be honest.

“We’ve been trading online though since the start of lockdown, delivering all over Lancashire.

“In fact, we’ve been so busy that I’ve had to employ two new members of staff – it just went crazy online – I’ve had more than 1,000 new customers.

“All the social distancing will take a bit of getting used to but you’ve got to keep going haven’t you, you’ve got to learn to adapt.”

John Bury from John’s Hardware said it was brilliant to be back in the market.

He said: “I couldn’t wait to re-open.

“I think the staff at The Mall and the Market have done really well with all the new measures.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work. There might be a few things that need tweaking here and there but everyone seems to be really on it, and there’s been no panicking or anything.

“People just want to keep safe and feel like everything is starting to get back to normal.

“Some of my customers have been coming into town and coming out just so they’re not staying in.

“I’ve had two or three of my regulars coming back saying ‘it’s so great that you are open’.

“It feels good to be back.”