Oxford Street’s candy trade may have turned sour, but more stores than ever remain empty.
As of the end of November, nearly 1 in 10 shops remain vacant, despite a drop in American candy stores by nearly a third thanks in part to the Council’s campaign against dirty money.
The tally up also showed that the presence of souvenir and luggage stores had also diminished, with over 40% disappearing from Europe’s busiest high street.
But the exodus of low end shops has left large parts of the shopping district boarded up, including several major retail units, such as the former Debenhams store which has stood idle for over a year.
The western end of Oxford Street is the worst hit, with 16 spaces without a tenant between Oxford Circus and Marble Arch, up from 13 in October 2021, while empty units have more than doubled from 4 to 10 on the stretch from Tottenham Court Road in the same period.
Contributing to this last figure are several dormant new buildings with empty shopfronts. On the corner of Newman Street is 70-88 Oxford Street, a shiny new building with over 40,000 sq ft of retail and office space. But the double height frontages have proved hard to fill, with developer Great Portland Estates announcing the second unit to be let, to fashion brand Reserved, only last week.
Look straight across the road, and there’s another unclaimed “retail opportunity”, in the building that houses the new Elizabeth Line Tottenham Court Road station.
Only one of 27 unlet stores showed signs of reopening imminently: a small takeaway coffee outlet on the corner of Binney Street.
Other large gaps in the West End’s primary shopping destination include those left by the former GAP store which closed in 2021, House of Fraser and Swedish retailer H&M.
There’s also the former Topshop flagship – idle since the group went into administration in late 2020, although furniture giant IKEA is set to takeover the store in Autumn 2023.
Other planned developments have run into trouble, notably the proposal to demolish and rebuild the M&S Marble Arch flagship which gained council approval in November 2021 and was then cleared by the Mayor of London, but has been kept on hold by Michael Gove, the Levelling Up secretary.
The project to redevelop Orchard House was further cast in doubt after claims from heritage groups that a deep retrofit solution had not even been considered by the retailer.
Oxford Street is notable for its high rents, which peaked as high as £1000 per sq ft in 2018, but have now fallen to £675 per sq ft as landlords try to attract new tenants.
The New West End Company, which represents businesses across 80 streets, admits that there is more work to be done in the new year to get things moving. It had previously joined other BIDs in calling on the government to back initiatives to promote tourism, including tax-free shopping for foreign visitors and longer Sunday trading hours.
It’s chief executive, Dee Corsi said: “Revitalising the West End continues to be a key priority for us. As we enter 2023 we have some exciting developments in the pipeline, including the highly-anticipated opening of IKEA on Oxford Street, while other brands are currently refurbishing their premises. We are also confident that the much-needed revaluation of business rates in April will give the high street the boost that it needs, ensuring that the district is even more appealing to domestic and international brands.
“However, the West End’s recovery will take time and we need support from the Government. In order to enhance the attractiveness of the district to overseas visitors, we are calling on the Government to review the economic impact of tax-free shopping in the UK and extend Sunday trading hours in London’s two international centres.”