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Articles (little kids, the little kids or both options are fine)

a month ago
Hello!
"The older customers get as excited as (9) the / zero article / both little kids, as they say the shop reminds them of buying sweets when they were younger."
I've chosen "excited as little kids" and my answer was marked wrong? What is the correct option? Why?
"I live in a relatively small town on the coast, with a sizeable tourist influx in the summer months. I noticed that, although there were any number of standard retail outlets where you could buy the usual chocolate bars and magazines, those old-fashioned sweet shops that used to be on every street corner when I was a child were merely a thing of the past. So I took out a bank loan to cover the initial costs and now I sell delicious sweets with weird-sounding names, like fizzbanger and sherbert explosions. The young ones love the shop for its novelty value, and the older customers get as excited as (9) the / zero article / both little kids, as they say the shop reminds them of buying sweets when they were younger."
It is possible to choose both meaning that both articles are fine.

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