Countdown begins for region's new John Lewis
The finishing touches are now being made to Exeter's £17 million John Lewis store ahead of its opening on Friday morning.
Stock worth an estimated £7 million is now – mostly – laid out on the store's five trading floors ahead of its eagerly-awaited opening at 9am.
Gleaming new kitchenwares, light fittings, electrical, fashion lines and Christmas decorations, as well as a 120-cover cafe complete with roof terrace, are now fully primed for shoppers to discover them.
The store will be the 38th John Lewis outlet to open and will have the latest technology and design features.
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Branch manager Kate Connock, who has spent much of her 22-year career at John Lewis working at branches in Poole and Bristol, said: "I have listened for all those years to people in Devon and Cornwall saying that they would like a store. It's even more special, having listened to that, to be the person opening this branch."
A team of 300 staff has been recruited to work at the new store. They have already emptied 38,000 crates of stock to fill the store's shelves.
As part of their training, they have spent the last two weeks honing their skills at other John Lewis branches including Southampton, Reading, Cribbs Causeway, near Bristol, and Swindon.
Final preparations this week will see them come together as a team for the first time for a dress rehearsal exercise that will see half pretending to be customers and the other half serving them.
The Exeter store, which is rapidly taking shape on the site of the former Debenhams outlet in Sidwell Street, is set to draw shoppers from across the peninsula. At present, the nearest John Lewis store is at the Cribbs Causeway shopping centre.
The store will be the largest John Lewis opening this year, with a total of 65,000sq ft of trading space.
The firm was originally planning to invest £8.5 million in the city to open a smaller At Home store with a footprint of 40,000sq ft. But, in a show of confidence in Exeter, it then decided to double its investment and to trial a new "flexible format" store which offers customers access to the full John Lewis offering in a smaller footprint.
John Lewis also opened its first ever "pop-up" shop in Exeter ahead of the main store opening.