Sadly, looks like the slow death of Exeter’s “high street” to Owl
Exeter city centre has seen vast changes over the past few shops with many shops coming and going from independent traders to massive chains such as Debenhams, Topshop and House of Fraser.
Anita Merritt www.devonlive.com
The presence of them remains unforgotten in Exeter, especially because where they once stood still remains the empty shell of what once stood there.
This week, some welcomed good news was received with the announcement that after five years since Jamie Oliver’s chain Italian restaurant closed its doors in Princesshay, the independent owners of existing popular restaurant and wine bar Margoux in Mary Arches Street will be moving into it.
An opening date will be announced shortly, but it is hoped to be in late February or March when it launches as a restaurant and cocktail bar.
The fate of the city centre’s numerous other vacant shops remains unclear.
Ann Hunter, board director of Exeter Chamber and InExeter Business Improvement District (BID) manager said: “Exeter is a city bursting with culture and a huge variety of retailers from award-winning independents to new eateries.
“Compared to the national average, Exeter has a low high street vacancy rate. We’re seeing a number of innovative and High Street changing developments coming through which will continue to drive growth for the city.
“St Sidwell’s Point which brings a leisure offer to the heart of the city, together with Colson’s Parade bringing a hotel and hospitality, are among some of the new and exciting developments due to open this year.
“We also have new leisure and hospitality businesses in the pipeline, so it is a really positive and encouraging time for the city.
“Footfall remains very positive here in Exeter, although down slightly on 2019. However, the national high street average is down 25 per cent. We are therefore continuing to see many people enjoying our vibrant city and we encourage them to continue to do so in accordance to government guidelines.”
Here is a reminder of the shops Exeter has lost while hope remains that they could be taken over during 2022 to bring more visitors to Exeter:
Argos in Exeter’s Guildhall Shopping Centre (Image: Devon Live)
Among the shops to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic is Argos in the Guildhall Shopping Centre.
In September 2020, Argos wouldn’t confirm whether several Argos branches across Devon, including its Exeter city centre, would reopen.
It has remained closed and signage on the outside now directs customers to how they can shop online.
Gok Wan’s Bling
The former TV show setting of Gok Wan’s Bling (Image: Devon Live)
A sudden spark of three weeks of excitement was injected into the Guildhall Shopping Centre this summer when TV celebrity host Gok Wan took over the vacant unit opposite H Samuel.
The former home of The Works, which has stood vacant for a long time, was temporarily taken over by film crews after Exeter was chosen as the perfect location to host brand new daytime ITV series Bling.
Filming took place in a unit opposite H Samuel for the new ITV show Bling, hosted by Gok Wan (Image: Devon Live)
Gok and the first contestants arrived on Monday, July 12, to begin filming. Over three weeks they shot 20 episodes which have since been broadcast.
During his short stay in Exeter, Gok revealed he hoped the series would be making a return to could some more bling be brought back to life in the shop again?
The Boarding House
The former Boarding House and Animal shop (Image: Devon Live)
Established specialist BMX shop for bikes and parts, plus skateboards, snowboards and streetwear The Boarding House has moved to various locations in the city.
It recently relocated from Fore Street to the Guildhall Shopping Centre inside what was Animal. However, its stay there was short-lived and it moved to smaller premises opposite in Waterbeer Street.
The premises was the home of Surf shop Animal – a concession within Tony Pryce – until July 22, 2018.
Signs of a new lease of life are already evident with scaffolding erected around the building and signs of work going on inside.
Axe-throwing at a Boom: Battle Bar venue
As yet, Boom: Battle Bar’s official website is giving little away about the proposed Exeter venue other than saying that it’s ‘coming soon 2022’.
The quirky bars offer food, cocktails and an eclectic mix of fun games such as axe-throwing, skee ball, American pool and mini-golf.
Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe
Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe in Exeter (Image: Devon Live)
Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, the UK’s largest family of traditional sweet shops, opened its first store in 2004.
After five years in Exeter, Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe relocated in January 2017 to its new home in Church Street, Sidmouth.
Sadly Sidmouth’s gain was Exeter’s loss because the shop in North Street remains unlet.
Store Twenty One
Store Twenty One in Exeter (Image: Devon Live)
The company went into administration in 2017, and the Exeter shop has remained closed ever since.
It also had branches in Honiton and Tiverton.
Nationwide, the chain employed more than 1,000 people and had around 125 high street shops.
Ladbrokes in South Street (Image: Devon Live)
Another pandemic casualty in the city centre is Ladbrokes which disappeared from its prominent position on the corner of South Street in 2021.
The betting chain had previously announced hundreds of Ladbrokes and Coral betting shops could be closed after a boom in online gambling during the pandemic.
Last March, Ladbrokes and Coral owner Entain said in its annual results this week that online earnings from customers betting through its smartphone apps and websites were up 50 per cent as users shifted online during the pandemic.
The Plant Cafe
The Plant Cafe (Image: Devon Live)
The independent vegetarian cafe in Cathedral Yard was a popular place to eat in Exeter for many years.
In October 2020, it was listed for sale for £119,000. It still currently remains on the market.
Before its closure, it was the subject of an investment. It provided 20 inside covers, and in excess of 30 alfresco covers, the latter of which proved very popular and valuable, in particular during the summer months.
The Edinburgh Woollen Mill
The Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Cathedral Yard (Image: Devon Live)
A long distant memory in Exeter is when The Edinburgh Woollen Mill, which faces Exeter Cathedral, was still trading.
A reminder of how long it has not been trading can be seen from its dilapidated sign which now has letters missing from it.
In 2020, years after its closure, it was announced more than 50 stores were to be closed and 600 jobs axed by the company behind Peacocks and Edinburgh Woollen Mill.
House of Tweed
House of Tweed (Image: Devon Live)
The specialists in creating luxurious handbags and accessories using bespoke designed tweed fabrics took over the former premises of Laura Ashley, but its time there was short-lived.
The womenswear and home furnishings retailer in the High Street was first turned into the Gift Company ahead of Christmas 2020.
Laura Ashley was one of a number of businesses that endured a prolonged closure following the Royal Clarence Hotel fire in October 2016.
The former Costa Coffee in Exeter High Street (Image: Devon Live)
A reminder of the impact of the Royal Clarence Fire is the coffee shop in the High Street which was located next door to Laura Ashley.
The building was damaged by smoke and water caused by the fire in the building behind.
It has never reopened. Costa Coffee confirmed it would no longer occupy the unit more than two years after the Royal Clarence fire.
It remains to let or with the option of possibly being bought.
L’Occatane in Exeter High Street (Image: Devon Live)
Award-winning natural skincare, beauty and organic cosmetics products high street retailer L’Occatane had a prolonged closure following the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, but then announced in June 2020 it would be reopening – but at a new location.
It moved from its home in the High Street next to Waterstones to Princesshay where it remains today.
The unit in the High Street remains empty.
Las Iguanas in Queen Street, Exeter (Image: Devon Live)
In August 2020, it was confirmed that Exeter’s Las Iguanas would not reopen following a takeover of the company.
Casual Dining Group was taken over by The Big Table who have acquired the Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge brands.
It had already previously been announced Exeter’s Café Rouge will remain permanently closed.
However, the good news is that finally, a new lease of life is due to be injected into the premises. Last November, a notice on its window revealed the venue in Queen Street is set to be transformed into a Revolution bar.
Inventive Service Company Limited has applied to Exeter City Council for a licence to serve alcohol and play live and recorded music between 10am and 2am daily.
It is also applying to provide late night refreshment between 11pm and 2am daily with the premises looking to operate from 8am until 2.30am Monday to Sunday.
The Real Food Store
The Real Food Store by Exeter Central Station (Image: Devon Live)
The community-owned food store beside Exeter Central station announced it would be closing at the end of September after “weathering a few storms” in the 10 years since opening.
The Real Food Store competed with the big food chains to bring local produce into the city. But after having to move from its successful base in Paris Street, its finances were knocked sideways by Covid.
Announcing closure, the store’s board said: “We are proud of our record in bringing local produce to the city centre providing you with an alternative to the national chains. But pride is not enough to sustain our business through the unprecedented challenges and changes we have faced over the past 18 months.”
Cafe Rouge in Princesshay (Image: Devon Live)
After much speculation, in July 2020 it was finally confirmed that Cafe Rouge in Princesshay would never reopen after a prolonged closure.
High Street dining parent company Casual Dining Group plunged into administration with the loss of 1,909 jobs.
The restaurant was renowned for selling delicious French-inspired cuisine.
The Cove in Princesshay (Image: Devon Live)
Tucked away at the bottom of Bedford Street, The Cove launched in 2010.
Since then it has diversified to offer a wide range of facial treatments, waxing (including permanent hair removal) alongside the classical treatments such as manicures.
It moved out of Princesshay into neighbouring Banrfiled Crescent and the shop remains vacant.
JD Sports in Princesshay (Image: Devon Live)
In June 2019, it was announced the national sportswear chain would be moving from Princesshay to take on units formerly occupied by Burton Menswear and Evans on the High Street.
It meant the branch of JD Sports in Princesshay, which replaced USC at the shopping centre in 2009, closed and it has remained empty ever since.
A spokesperson for JD Sports said at the time: “We are moving to larger premises which will let us present a fuller range of our products in the store.
“We have not got a confirmed date for the move and reopening, however, we anticipate it will be the first half of 2020.”
Debenhams in Princesshay (Image: Devon Live)
In January 2021, online fashion retailer Boohoo confirmed it had bought the Debenhams brand for £55 million and would relaunch the department store as an online-only operation.
Bosses said the deal, worth £55million, would not include saving Debenhams’ stores which would close for good as part of a structured winding down of the business.
The large Exeter department store in Princesshay reopened for a closing down sale – but then closed its doors for good.
Topshop/ Topman/ Selfridges
Topsham/ Topman/ Selfridges in Princesshay (Image: Devon Live)
Topshop was among those who did not reopen following the coronavirus lockdown, despite droves of hopeful customers peering through its windows for a flicker of life.
In February 2021, Asos confirmed it had sealed the takeover of Topshop and three other brands from the collapse of the Arcadia retail empire for £265 million.
The online fashion retailer bought the Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT brands from administrators.
It meant Exeter’s store was among the shops that closed permanently as the brands become online only.
BrightHouse in Sidwell Street (Image: Devon Live)
The rent-to-own high-street store went into administration in March 2020. The chain had stores across Devon and Cornwall, with outlets in Exeter, Torquay, Plymouth and St Austell.
It is believed to have closed after facing an influx of compensation claims for selling to people who could not afford to repay.
The firm had 200,000 customers and was the largest operator in the rent-to-own sector.
Rent-to-own customers make monthly payments for household items, in effect renting goods until they have paid in full.
The Sidwell Street site still has fencing outside the store to prevent rough sleepers from taking shelter outside the premises.
Timpson in Sidwell Street (Image: Devon Live)
The shop which offered services from key cutting to shoe repairs closed in Sidwell Street, but customers can still go to its other location in the Guildhall Shopping Centre.
Sharps Bedrooms (Image: Devon Live)
For many years a familiar sight along Sidwell Street was Sharps Bedrooms.
The nearest showroom is now believed to be Taunton. The business offers bespoke fitted wardrobes and home offices, with storage solutions tailored to customers exact needs.