Exeter has long been a shopping destination for locals and visitors. It has grown considerably over the past 20 years introducing a range of new chain stores. Below we have researched the history of some of the chain stores and their connection with Exeter.

Boots -  Opened c.1909 (Barnstaple had a Boots in 1906) and appears to have always stood somewhere in the High Street. For many years it was on the corner of Queen Street where JJB and Tesco now stand. It moved to its present site after WW2 and has remained there ever since, although the shop has been reduced in size in recent years. 

Tesco -  The first Tesco store in Exeter opened in 1969 in Sidwell Street. The store moved to its present site on the High Street after C&A closed in 2000. The Exe Vale store opened in the 1990’s.

Woolworths – This well loved store first opened its doors in Exeter around 1923 and was located in Fore Street. It later moved to the High Street after Garton and King moved their showrooms to the new Central Station buildings. Woolworths eventually moved from the High Street in 1976 when the new Guildhall Shopping Centre was built. They also had a store in Sidwell Street which closed during the 1980’s. The Guildhall Centre shop remained open until the chain folded in 2008.

C&A – C&A opened in 1972 on the High Street and remained there until 2000 when the chain pulled out of the UK. The site is now occupied by JJB and Tesco

Curry’s – Curry’s first opened on the High Street in 1919 and the store closed down in 2011. The chain is still present in Exeter at its larger premises on the edge of Marsh Barton 

Exeter Pram and Toy Shop – Originally known as Exeter Cycle Works, the store opened in 1897. The name changed to Exeter Pram and Toy Shop in 1963 and finally closed down in 2000. For many years it stood on Sidwell Street on the site now occupied by Sainsbury’s. 

Pinder & Tuckwell -  A local business, Pinder and Tuckwell was a familiar sight on the High Street from 1824 until its final demise in 2010. 

Marks & Spencer – The first Marks & Spencer store in Exeter opened in 1912. The chain built a new store after the Blitz on the High Street where Republic now stands. The current shop on the corner of Queen Street was built as part of the ‘Golden Heart’ project which also saw the building of the Guildhall Shopping Centre. The present store was opened in the early 80's.

Thomas Moores – Thomas Moore opened his shop on Fore Street in 1907 and quickly gained a reputation for excellence and style. The shop was one of the first in the city to install gas lighting to illuminate its window display. Thomas Moore was a keen motorcyclist and enlisted in the First World War as a dispatch rider. Sadly he died at the front, and his heartbroken mother sold the shop. The new owners kept the name

Cann Bros. – A gentleman’s outfitters, Cann’s opened in 1896 and kept the men of Exeter in style until 2003

Colson’s/Dingle’s – The longest standing store in Exeter, Colson’s can be traced as far back as 1792 when Mrs Colson opened the store. Mrs Colson was a milliner and the store sold silks and tea, then a luxury good. The business remained in the Colson family, expanding along the way to include new goods, until 1913 when it was sold to Sir Edgar Plummer. Sir Edgar ran the store for 12 years and then sold it again to Bright’s of Bournemouth in 1925. The store has always been on the same site in the High Street, and in 1942 the store was destroyed by the Blitz. The current store rose on the same site and became part of the House of Fraser chain 1969. The name was changed to Dingles in 1973 to harmonize it with the other House of Fraser stores in the region. In 2007 the name Dingles was dropped in favour of House of Fraser after a major refit of the store ahead of the opening of the new Princesshay. 

W.H Smith – W.H Smith’s is the oldest standing chain in Exeter with the earliest reference to a W.H Smith appearing in the 1885 Besley’s directory. W.H Smith began as a news vendor in 1792 in London and became known as W.H Smith’s in 1846. It took advantage of the rapid expansion of the railways and opened newsstands at stations, beginning with Euston station in 1848. Indeed this is where the first reference to W.H Smith’s can be found in Exeter, a station bookseller at St Davids. The W.H Smith chain was the inventor of the unique 9 digit code for identifying books in 1966, which became the universally used ISBN number in 1970. Apparently there is a connection with W. H Smiths and Courtland’s house near Lympstone. One of the owners of Courtlands is said to have been a partner to William Henry Smith when he founded the W.H Smith chain. W.H Smith has owned a surprising number of other businesses, including the Our Price record chain and Waterstones.  

Sainsbury’s – The first Sainsbury’s store came to Exeter in 1976 in the Guildhall Centre. The Exe Bridges store was opened in 1986- and the  Pinhoe store in 1993. The store also took over the old Exeter Pram and Toy store in 2007

Debenhams - The history of Debenhams goes back to 1833 when a drapers store named Green and Son opened. The store flourished for nearly 90 years and in 1922 was taken over by Bobby’s. Mr Bobby bought his first drapers store in 1887 and established a limited company in 1900 which expanded to acquire more stores across the country. Mr Bobby retired in 1922 and the company was sold to Debenhams, but the original name was retained. The Bobby’s store on the High Street, which was on the other side of St Stephens Church from Colson’s, was another victim of the Blitz and the store moved premises to Fore Street until 1964. In this year the now familiar building on the corner of Sidwell Street was opened with 60 departments over 5 floors. The name changed to Debenhams in 1972 to bring it into line with all the other stores nationwide, and in 2007 the store closed on the Sidwell Street site and moved to the new Princesshay. The building is currently being refurbished for John Lewis and is due to reopen at the end of 2012.