Londoners bearing Christmas gifts had travelled to the east

Westfield Stratford City braces for busiest shopping weekend of the year so far after stellar first year of trading

They came in their hundreds across the steel bridge, drawn from the rainy gloom towards the irresistible sparkle and warmth of Europe’s largest urban shopping centre.

At the tail-end of the afternoon, gaggles of schoolgirls unleashed from school headed straight for Primark, Topshop and H&M to buy small gifts for their friends, while families took advantage of the miniature car-style buggies to pile up their Christmas shopping as well as their offspring.

As Westfield Stratford City in east London geared up for what is set to be its busiest weekend of the year – likely to be topped only by the one preceding Christmas – retailers reported strong sales throughout the day. There was not a spare seat at a stall selling state-of-the-art infra-red Amika hair straighteners and curlers, as delighted women watched their transformation in the mirrors. Sales manager Micky said: “They are on special offer – reduced from £160 to £80 – and we have sold about 100 today.”

This is the centre’s second Christmas – and its first following a full year’s trading. It has broken all records for a British mall – beating its older Westfield rival in west London – with 47 million visitors in its first year. It opened in September 2011 alongside the Olympic Park, creating 10,000 permanent jobs. It houses 250 shops, 70 bars and restaurants, a cinema, a bowling alley and casino and achieved £500m in sales in its first six months.

A weary Glenn Martin, 37, was waiting outside H&M for his girlfriend and still suffering from a post-party hangover. “We live in Woodford – which is about half an hour away on the tube – and normally shop in the West End.

“We’ve done most of our shopping online but thought we would come here for a change. It’s very, very busy and very, very noisy.” His girlfriend, Bernie Harrington, 41, agreed: “You don’t come here for fun. It’s like a military exercise – I know exactly where to go and then head straight out again.”

She was left disappointed after finding that a Uniqlo merino sweater was sold out, while Martin had failed to find a Welsh rugby top – a Christmas gift for a friend.

The Kohli family, from Brentwood, were buying “cheap trainers” from JD Sports for as little as £20 a pair. And a roaring trade was under way in One Piece, which sells only onesies in a range of eye-popping designs.

Nearby, there were plenty of takers at Searcys champagne bar for its special offer of a £6 glass of bubbly “with any food purchase”.

But in the rain-spattered outdoor arcade, the shops in the eerie shadow of the Olympic Stadium were hardly overrun with customers. Sports shops such as The Bike Room and Inside Track which were heaving during the Olympics had no customers. In Prada there were more staff (including security guards) than shoppers. When I asked what the cheapest item was, I was pointed towards a Saffiano Lux handbag in orange leather – a snip at £890. I later spotted a similar one in Primark in black simulated leather for £12.

On the lower ground floor, Christmas sweaters were out in force, worn by shoppers taking time out to skate on the ice rink and clearly keen to do their bit to support the shopping centre’s chosen charity, Save the Children.

Visitors had been urged to rescue granny’s homemade knits from style exile or buy the festive sweater they had their eye on as part of Christmas Jumper Day. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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