MONTREAL -- If a global pandemic didn't stop them, major construction and the long lineup didn't stand a chance.

Montrealers who have been waiting for years for a local UNIQLO store arrived for its grand opening Friday morning in numbers that even had police enforcing social distancing.

The store, in the Eaton Centre, is Japanese clothing giant UNIQLO's largest one in Canada to date.

And the brief un-2020-like scene at its opening gave city officials hope that the novelty of a new international retailer can help bring more foot traffic back downtown.

“The quality is really good. It’s a Japanese brand,” said Laline Chin, who lined up two hours before opening.

“When I get to Toronto or to other countries I always go to UNIQLO stores.”

For others, a retail opening is one of those few events that are still accessible during the lockdown.

“I try not to hold myself as a prisoner at home,” said shopper Monica Romany. “Follow the rules and you’re good to go.”

There was enough excitement to get a first glimpse of the 32,000-square-foot storefront that police had to briefly step in to enforce social distancing -- and the mayor noticed.

“I thinks it’s good for morale," said Montreal Mayor said Valarie Plante.

"It shows that big investors and companies like UNIQLO are willing to come and invest here, downtown, even though it’s a difficult time."

The city is hoping the buzz over the new retailer will help create a spinoff effect, drawing local customers offline, into a brick-and-mortar shopping trip, and to a few stores at a time.

With so many people working from home and tourism almost nonexistent, retailers in the city centre are struggling. 

On Thursday, the city announced several measures to support local stores, including free parking downtown on Saturdays and Sundays until January. 

But UNIQLO says that even though things are tough on Ste. Catherine St. now, it's banking on good business in the long run.

“Of course no one could have predicted the pandemic,” says Kat Adams, sustainability manager for UNIQLO Canada.

“But we decided to continue to launch this store because there’s been a lot of demand from Quebecers for UNIQLO in Quebec.” 

The store is working with local businesses to include their products in the store. Rachel St. florist Bell Jar Botanicals is featured this fall, for example.