Oxford Street sweeter – with fewer shops empty or selling candy

Oxford Street has begun to bounce back, with the proportion of vacant shops down by 40% and almost a fifth of its troublesome candy and souvenir shops now closed.

The revival of the central London shopping street has been spurred by a mix of factors, including the full reopening of Tottenham Court Road station at its eastern end and last May’s official launch of the Elizabeth line, which stops there, a bounce back in tourist visitors, from the UK and elsewhere, and a concerted effort by Westminster council to take action against American candy stores.

The proportion of vacant shops now stands at 9.3%, down from 15.6% last year and the lowest level since 2021, according to research by the Local Data Company (LDC) while the number of candy or souvenir stores has dropped from 29 to 24.

Vacancy levels at the east end of the street, near the revamped Tottenham Court Road, have fallen to 5.1% while the west end, near Marble Arch, is finding life tougher with 12.5% of shops still vacant.

New openings over the past year include HMV, which returned to the site of its original store in November, the sportswear brand Under Armour and the beauty brand Rituals.

The previous HMV record shop became a US-style candy shop. Photograph: Mike Kemp/In Pictures/Getty

Ikea’s new store is due to open in the former Topshop building near Oxford Circus this autumn, a year later than first hoped, and Moco, the contemporary art museum that has sites in Barcelona and Amsterdam, has secured a spot on the street. Gibson guitars recently began hosting gigs and music lessons in nearby Eastcastle Street.

However, the street, which reached a low point in 2022 with the closure of the disastrous £6m Marble Arch Mound, still faces challenges. The Body Shop closed one of its two stores there last week and the future of the Marks & Spencer flagship near Marble Arch hangs in the balance amid a legal battle over plans to raze and redevelop the building.

Lucy Stainton, commercial director at LDC, said: “For context, as we headed into 2024 we saw vacancy on high streets across the UK start to creep back up again which makes the stark reversal of empty units on Oxford Street even more remarkable.

“With the number of souvenir and ‘American candy stores’ also reducing at the same time, the data is showing a much more positive picture for one of Britain’s most iconic and well known shopping streets.”

Dee Corsi, the chief executive of New West End Company trade body, which represents businesses trading on Oxford Street, said the street was “being radically reimagined”.

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“Nearly 1m square feet of space is under development on the street, as investors look to create new experiences which resonate with the customer of tomorrow,” she said.

Geoff Barraclough, cabinet member for planning and economic development for Westminster city council, said: “Oxford Street is back stronger than ever. New stores continue to open on the street, replacing former candy, and souvenir stores, which now operate only 2% of trading floor space.”

He said the council’s £90m redevelopment plans for the street in partnership with the NWEC, which was given the green light last month, included new seating, lighting and 64 new or improved pedestrian crossings, would help “bring the street up to modern standards”.