Shoppers in Inverness braved an early morning downpour as they headed into town for their first spree in four months.
As lockdown eased, retailers and hospitality businesses looked forward to welcoming back their first customers since December this morning.
And even a drizzly morning couldn’t dampen spirits, with queues forming outside Primark, TK Maxx and H&M from early on.
Staff were well prepared to deal with the demand and quickly ushered in the customers while maintaining safe distances.
Inverness High Street was busier than usual; although it was not as packed it was not awash with crowds as demonstrated in other cities, including Aberdeen, where shoppers queued from 6am.
Instead, shoppers seemed relaxed and willing to bide their time.
In Elgin, the stream of customers into St Giles Centre was described as “steady.”
‘Definitely good that things are starting to open up again’
Zuza Drozd, a 20-year-old trainee assistant manager at Revolution, headed for Primark early on to purchase clothes for work.
She said: “The service was quite quick and there wasn’t a queue, which is good.
“I was there just after 8am. It was quite smooth and it felt fine inside.
“I have been waiting to buy clothes for work. I managed to get quite a few bits as well but I’m not back to work until May.
“It’s definitely good that things are starting to open up again.”
‘As long as everybody behaves themselves’
David Rodwell, a retired landscaper, visited the High Street to return a pair of faulty boots.
He said he was happy shops have reopened “as long as everybody behaves themselves and sticks to the rules”.
He said: “I have been shielding for ages and I have had my two jabs now.
“The car park was busy and I nearly turned away but it’s quiet here just now.
“It is a good thing – as long as everybody behaves themselves and sticks to the rules.”
Others didn’t have specific items on the agenda and instead fancied browsing the sales.
Friends Patty Ulas and Paulina Rychlik flocked to TK Maxx and found themselves waiting in a queue.
‘It’s nice to get back to some sort of normal life’
Miss Ulas said: “It’s good to be back.
“I was just looking forward to getting to TK Maxx, to be honest.
“After being in lockdown for so many months, it’s nice to get back to some sort of normal life.”
Miss Rychlik said she was not too fussed about having to wait in the queue, which soon moved.
She said: “We only had to wait two minutes. We managed to get a coffee beforehand so it was fine.
“For me, I just wanted to see what was in the sales.
“Of course I am happy things are starting to open up again.”
Representatives from Inverness Bid were also in and around the city centre today to chat with shoppers and businesses on their return.
Manager Mike Smith said he was “delighted” to see businesses reopen after being closed for months.
He said he was most looking forward to heading out for a meal this evening as parts of the hospitality industry also throw open their doors again.
Mr Smith said: “We are delighted to see the reopening of city centre shops and hospitality today. All the businesses are raring to get back open and it was good to see them all back in position.
“Generally there are a lot more people around.
“People are not going mad and they are taking their time.
“It is nice to see them browsing and spending time in the city centre again.”
Mr Smith added: “I think it will be a gradual build-up to the weekend when we will have a full range of hospitality open – or almost full range.
“The lockdown at the end of December was a bit of a shock and I think what was also difficult for business was how long it went on because we all thought it would be a month or six weeks or so.
“It has been really tough for businesses, and it has been really tough for the public, so it is really nice to see that they have reopened.
“We seem to be in a good place and we are very keen that everybody keeps to the rules, as I am sure they will, and this is the start of the new future.”
St Giles shopping centre had a steady stream of customers, with the eyebrow threading stall boasting the biggest queue of the day.
General manager Stephen Young revealed that the weather played a part in how busy the precinct was.
He said: “It’s been steady, the weather today I think has determined that slightly.
“The busiest shop has been the eyebrow threading lady, that’s where there has been a queue all morning. Otherwise, there’s been no other major queues, there were some for the phone shops.
“But yeah, I’d describe the centre as steady, busier than before but steady.
“I think with the bank holiday weekend coming up this weekend, with payday and all that and the weather forecast being good, I anticipate that we could get quite busy.
“I’ve heard that a lot of the social aspects, the beer gardens and that are fully booked then, so it will be busy in the city centre.”
Gemma Cruickshank, Elgin Bid manager, said there had been a “great buzz” around the town this morning.
“Business owners are extremely happy and excited to be welcoming customers through their doors again,” she said. “The city centre has been busy all morning despite the weather, businesses have had queues and some before they were even open.
“It’s great to see the public are supporting and spending locally within Elgin, this needs to continue as they need your support more now than ever.”