Businesses look forward to John Lewis effect
THE opening of John Lewis in Exeter has been hailed as one of the “most significant events” in the city’s economic history.
Business leaders say they cannot wait for the shop to open its doors at 9am on Friday and see Exeter reap the benefits of its arrival.
Staff have been working into the night loading the shelves with £7m worth of stock to tempt shoppers and Kate Connock, pictured, the store’s manager, said: “Customers in our pop-up shop in High Street have been saying they are planning to take the day off on our first day.
“Those first shoppers will be greeted with the very latest John Lewis has to offer in fashion, perfumery, household goods and technology.”
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City centre manager John Harvey says he sees the arrival of John Lewis in Exeter as possibly more significant than the redevelopment of Princesshay.
Mr Harvey told the Echo: “John Lewis’s arrival is the most significant investment in the city centre for a very long time, arguably it is more significant than the Princesshay development.
“It will encourage people from a much wider catchment area to come to Exeter as their shopping destination of choice and this is significant not just for John Lewis but for all the other city centre retailers, large and small, as well as cafés and restaurants – every single one is going to profit from John Lewis’s arrival.
“It’s really important to keep up the momentum of change and renewal which is so important for the city centre, and it is going to result in other retailers wanting to be in Exeter and making it the first choice for investment west of Bristol.
“That is already evident in Cath Kidston, Yo Sushi!, Republic, Urban Outfitters and so on coming to Exeter, which they may not have done without John Lewis.”
Cllr Pete Edwards, leader of Exeter City Council, said: “It is great to welcome John Lewis to the city. We hope they prosper and I am sure that Exeter will prosper too as the store will attract so many into our city centre.
“The decision by the Partnership to come to Exeter has also been good news for our jobs market with the store employing 300 people.”
And Karime Hassan, one of Exeter’s strategic directors, said: “John Lewis marks a key milestone in the city’s continued progress as the premier retail destination in the region.
“It has been a longstanding aspiration to bring John Lewis to Exeter. The company’s decision to build its new department store in Exeter will expand the city’s retail catchment area and ensure more shoppers choose the city instead of driving up the motorway to Bristol.
“More shoppers visiting Exeter is good news for businesses in the city centre.
“We are particularly delighted that John Lewis has made a commitment to opening late into the evenings and this provides a real opportunity for the traders in the city centre to support the restaurants and cafés and develop a vibrant early evening economy.”
Mr Hassan added: “The city council is determined to build on the momentum brought by John Lewis with existing proposals for the redevelopment of the bus and coach station site. “We are confident John Lewis’s investment in Exeter will encourage other retailers to look at the city as their regional base.” With regard to the physical change the store has brought to the city, Mr Hassan added: “The former Debenhams building has dominated the skyline of the city centre; and in recent years the building has looked tired and in need of attention.
“There have been many ideas put forward for tackling the external treatment of the building, but the recession left a question mark over the future of the upper floors of the building with no obvious viable solution.
“John Lewis’s decision to pursue a full line department store instead of the At Home format brought the whole store into use and a solution was found.
“John Lewis, Land Securities and the Crown Estates have produced a stunning building that maintains much of the character of the original building but with a contemporary style. Attention to detail, such as the use of a wool pattern on the glazing to the frontage, has produced a building that the city can be proud of.”
If the store is big news for Exeter it is also big for John Lewis – for the first time the whole of the retailer’s senior management board will be attending an opening.
Also at the opening will be representatives of the three charities which will be the first to benefit from the store’s Community Matters scheme.
Every three months the store will give away £3,000 to three local charities – the first chosen to benefit are FORCE Cancer Charity, St Petrock’s, which helps homeless and vulnerably-housed people, and Balloons, which provides support for children and young people before and after the death of someone close to them.