Exeter’s coolest shopping destination with rock star fans is still a hidden gem
How many local shopping destinations can say that they have world-famous rock stars among their fans – or that they are home to an iconic vintage boutique that has survived for decades?
Well, that’s exactly what you’ll find if you venture into Exeter’s modest McCoys Arcade.
Set back from Fore Street – well known for its independent traders – the Arcade is also a hive of enthusiasts offering something a little different. And not a single Starbucks in sight.
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Some of these deals may come as a surprise because, as one merchant put it, the arcade has shifted from its once “drab” behavior to a cool, alternative place to shop.
An eclectic mix of independent businesses sits under its roof.
From hairdressers to web designers, every business is run by people who care deeply about the quality and variety of what they offer.
Known in previous years as Fore Street Center, McCoys Arcade became synonymous with its popular vintage clothing store – The Real McCoy – which ultimately led to the arcade’s original name being dropped.
The boutique has been around since 1985, transporting customers back in time with vintage clothing and accessories dating as far back as the 1920s.
James Rundle, director of The Real McCoy, explained: “We cater for a variety of different needs, whether it’s conventional fashion or very specific period clothing. We try to meet all of that.”
He said he liked the “quiet atmosphere” of the arcade and added, “It’s kind of a little corner off the street.”
Another long-standing arcade business is the famous Mansons Guitar Shop.
It has earned its excellent reputation over the decades and counts Muse frontman Matt Bellamy as one of its champions.
When Matt received an advance for the band’s debut album, he came to Mansons for a custom guitar and continued to use a Manson guitar on every show and album Muse has done since.
In 2019, Matt bought Manson Guitar Works co-founder Hugh Manson, who still owns the Mansons Guitar Shop in Exeter.
“The store has been in Exeter for a very long time – I think over 30 years or so,” explained John, who works in the store.
“The owner is Hugh Manson who has worked with Led Zepplin for 25 years, and obviously we are known for the Muse Association and Matt Bellamy.
“We have a group of properly trained staff to give you the right advice whether you are just starting out or have been playing for four decades,” he said.
John said customers who choose to support arcade activities help fund people’s passions while still getting first-class service.
“The wonderful thing about the descent from Fore Street to Exeter is that the businesses are mostly independent,” he said.
“And when you walk in you talk to people like me – there’s no higher from here, you genuinely support a local business. Even though the name is big, the store isn’t.
“So that means when you come and talk to us, we are all musicians who play and love what we’ve been doing and have been doing for a long time.
“Ditto for the bookstore and The Real McCoy – they’re all independent companies doing things because they want to do them, so when you come and support them, you meet people with the same passion as you.”
Chris Harper bought his love of craft beer from the arcade in 2015 when he opened Hops and Crafts.
The shop offers an ever-changing selection of over 200 different beers from around the world, including America, Belgium and Scandinavia.
“I think the best thing about being here is just the feeling of community in the sense that everyone here is doing something they’re passionate about,” Chris said.
“There’s no one coming because they have to come to work. These are people who settle down like me as something that they’re really interested in – something that they want to share with other people.”
The latest company to join McCoys Arcade is independent bookstore The Bookbag, which opened during the pandemic.
Charlie Richards of the store explained, “We wanted to sell books that maybe a little different, celebrating independent publishers.
“For example, for our children’s books, we don’t have famous authors. more difficult to find interesting books.
“Exeter has two huge bookstores, and we’re hoping to come up with something a little different.
“We can order any book if people want to buy books independently, and it usually happens very quickly.”
The store offers a wide range of unusual books, including on race, feminism, nature, music and art.
It has also hosted an online book club and hopes to start offering more face-to-face events.
“We want to be a very sociable space,” Charlie said.
“We’re next to a cafe so people can come in, buy a book, take it to Sacred Grounds, order a coffee, and read it.
“There’s a real kind of friendship around all of the arcade businesses, and I think being the newest store here, what we do compliments what they do and what they do. font also helps us.
“You will get something different from what you do in department stores. You will get more user-friendly service.
“I think a few clients tell me they feel like the area has changed, and it’s definitely for the better,” she said.
“You can get really good coffee and really good food here – it feels like shopping in a cool place.”
Step into Francis Kay Vintage, and you’ll definitely feel like you’ve arrived in a pretty cool place.
The company – owned by Chris Wooddissee – buys, sells and restores vintage technology – mainly typewriters, photographic equipment and vintage HiFi systems.
“Because we do what we do, we like to think there’s a wide ‘green’ angle to that, so it’s not just about the quality of the items we sell,” he said. declared.
“What we are doing here is very sustainable and environmentally friendly.
“Francis Kay was my grandfather, and he taught me everything I know.
“It’s on Fore Street, which is sort of the coolest end of town.
“We’re full of freelancers – there aren’t any channels here at all. That’s his USP – his unique businesses.
“Where are you going to buy a typewriter in the South West, let alone Exeter?”
“We consider ourselves to be established, but you have companies like Mansons which have been established for decades and The Real McCoy which have been established for decades. It’s a very unique place to come.
“All businesses are very complementary to each other. They all fit together quite well, so there are a variety of stores that sell second-hand or second-hand items or handmade crafts.
“Even the tearoom, they don’t just sell stuff you could buy at Sainsbury’s – the same with the beer store.
“Same with Manson’s guitar shop – same with us.
“And I think that’s another reason it really, really works. It just attracts people from all parts of the Southwest, which is fantastic.”
Those looking to take a break from the arcade arcade shopping can relax at the Sacred Grounds Cafe, which is run by the former owners of the cult boutique No Guts No Glory.
You can still find No Guts No Glory right in front of the arcade, but over the past few years Hayley Maker and the team have focused their energies on the herbal Sacred Grounds coffee.
“We love to create really innovative food – really fresh,” said Hayley.
“We make everything from scratch here in our small kitchen.
“We also really like using local suppliers as much as possible, so for example our tea comes from the tearoom at the end of the arcade. Our coffee is from Crediton.
“We also run on green energy and try not to waste as much as possible.
“On top of that, we just want to create a really lovely community cafe where everyone is welcome, where you walk in, and where you can sit and have a wonderful brunch, and the food is always great.
“We want to put Exeter on the map for a really great place where you can come to dine and eat, bring your friends and family and be proud of the city we are in.
“The arcade has always been a hotspot for alternative culture in Exeter. It has always had an artisanal atmosphere.
“And in the 10 years since we know that – because we launched No Guts, No Glory in this arcade – he’s kind of gone through this huge transformation, and he’s lost a lot of those footage of a theater. ‘dull arcade.
“It’s now so vibrant and full of light and life. It’s really unique, there aren’t many arcades like this in the world anymore, so it’s very important that it’s celebrated.”
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