High street stores reported fast and furious business while Pickfords, the travel company, took 50 per cent more bookings for holidays than on the same day last year.
Hopes that the country was finally spending its way out of recession rose tentatively as city centres across the country became clogged with traffic heading to the sales. The Automobile Association reported city-centre congestion in London, Bristol, Leeds, Southampton, Sheffield, Birmingham, Glasgow, Gateshead, Oxford and Cardiff.
Tim Daniels, managing director of Selfridges and the president of the Oxford Street Association in London, estimated that sales were up between 12 and 15 per cent. 'I haven't seen Selfridges so busy in more than 10 years,' he said. 'It's absolutely hectic. There are thousands and thousands of people passing through the store. Whether this is the beginning of the end of recession is too early to say; we can only hope.'
In Oxford Street, a barometer for retail sales, most stores reported brisk business. But Brian Hudspith, a spokesman for Marks and Spencer, said: 'Retailing is a marathon, not a sprint. We have to look longer than just a good Monday or a single good week.'
Department stores reported menswear and home furnishings - areas that have suffered in 1992 - selling well. Electrical goods, many reduced by up to 40 per cent, also sold quickly, according to Currys.
At the MetroCentre in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, Europe's largest indoor shopping centre, more than 50,000 people passed through the doors before 11am. It was estimated that more than 130,000 visited the centre, causing a 10-mile tailback on the A1M.
All approaches to the Lakeside shopping centre in Grays, Essex, were at a standstill with six- mile jams on the M25.
In Bristol, traffic was brought to a halt as thousands headed for the Galleries shopping centre. Most car parks were full by 9am.
In Leeds, city centre car parks were full and roads became blocked by noon. Inspector Steven Banks, of West Yorkshire police, said the congestion stretched for two miles along the M1 south of the city centre. And outside Sheffield the M1 was blocked for much of the morning by six-mile tailbacks as an estimated 150,000 converged on the Meadowhall shopping complex.
Inspector Allan Murray, of South Yorkshire Police, said: 'The shoppers hit the place at 10am and it didn't recover until well into the afternoon.'
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