Water attraction causes John Lewis distraction
Shoppers were in danger of getting wet feet as a long-awaited Westcountry department store suffered a burst pipe on its opening day.
The Exeter John Lewis store was forced to evacuate the lower ground floor as a deepening puddle spread around the technology exhibits.
Kris Frank, a city resident, said he was browsing the television sets and hi-fi systems when the pipe sprung a leak.
"It was spreading quite quickly and they evacuated the whole floor, "he added.
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"I spoke to one staff member who said it was quite bad down there – they seemed a bit shocked and surprised.
"It was a bit of a disaster for the first day – but quite amusing."
The much-heralded grand opening of John Lewis's £17 million store – the first in Devon and Cornwall – has been trumpeted as a coup for the growing city.
The attraction of the high-quality shop – famous for its employee-share scheme – has been greeted with excitement by the business community.
Along with the proposed siting of an Ikea store nearby, the so-called John Lewis effect is expected to help buck the trend for dwindling high streets and empty premises.
Vacancy rates in the city centre have dropped to 6.96% – half of the national average – and demand for commercial property in the vicinity has risen noticeably, according to agents.
John Harvey, Exeter city centre manager, said the city had already benefited tangibly and traders were "buoyant".
He said: "Without John Lewis, would we have seen Cath Kidston, Hollister, Urban Outfitter, Republic?"
Branch manager Kate Connock threw open the doors after months of waiting at 9am, after giving a speech to her team of "partners".
A John Lewis spokesman said that, other than the teething problems, the opening had been "a great success".
"Due to exceptionally high customer demand, we faced some challenges with water supply which were rectified quickly," she added.