MORE than 300 people were already in the queue when a new department store opened on the site of a former Marks & Spencer this morning.

Beales transformed the empty unit at Fareham Shopping Centre into a fully-stocked department store in only two weeks.

The boss of the Bournemouth-based department store chain says he had been eyeing Fareham as a base for one of his shops for years.

The mayor of Fareham, Cllr Pamela Bryant, cut the ribbon, along with Nigel Beale, whose family founded the stores in 1881.

Tony Brown, chief executive of Beales and its owner since a management buyout last year, said: “We’ve had the shop for two weeks and gone from zero to a full department store in two weeks.

“It looks great.

“It’s getting a lot of interest around Fareham, Gosport, Portsmouth, and even all the way from West End.”

He is from the area and said his mother will be among the store’s customers.

He had been looking for a store in the town for years. “It’s a great demographic for us,” he said.

The shop has 27,000sqft of trading space. “It shows confidence in what we’re doing. Despite the challenges, we have confidence in what we’re doing,” he said.

He said of the store: It’s a full line department store with the exception of cosmetics.

“We’ve got an incredible Christmas department with gifts, we’ve got a very, very wide homewares department, we’ve got take-home furniture, menswear, a great womenswear department," he added.

Early bargains include David Jones and Radley handbags, he said.