1. Economics
July 25, 2023

No more candy: Small businesses offered rent-free opportunity to revive London’s Oxford Street

Westminster City Council and New West End Company partner to launch a programme to rid Oxford Street of American candy stores.

By City Monitor Staff

London’s iconic Oxford Street is set to witness a revival as part of a project launched by Westminster City Council, in collaboration with New West End Company. Titled ‘Meanwhile On: Oxford Street’, the programme aims to offer small businesses the opportunity to take over a shop on Oxford Street, rent-free, and bring something new to the renowned shopping destination.

London Oxford Street
People walk past an American candy store in London. The proliferation of American-style candy stores in Oxford Street and the surrounding area began in 2017 and increased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic when well-known shop chains closed down leaving buildings empty. Landlords moved them in rent-free hoping they would pay business rates but many have been prosecuted for non-payment. More recently, trading standards and police have targeted many of the shops and confiscated thousands of pounds worth of counterfeit and dangerous goods. Westminster City Council wrote to the landlords in May begging them to do “all that they can” to bring the influx of the stores to an end. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

According to a release, the initiative seeks to activate previously vacant spaces, which were once occupied by “low-quality stores like American candy shops”, by inviting innovative, cutting-edge, and up-and-coming brands to transform the high-profile locations. Selected businesses will have the chance to showcase their brand’s story through immersive experiences using technologies like virtual or augmented reality.

In some cases, the chosen brands can even bring their production processes to the forefront by installing machines in-store, providing customers with a unique insight into the creation of clothes and other materials.

Oxford Street and the Fairer Economy

The “Meanwhile On: Oxford Street” programme aligns with Westminster City Council‘s broader Fairer Economy plan, which aims to invest in and rejuvenate high streets across the borough. As part of the campaign, businesses looking to launch their first physical store will be granted prime locations for an initial six-month period with no rent charges. Additionally, these brands will benefit from a significant 70% reduction in business rates and may have the opportunity to share themed concept stores with other brands.

To further support the selected businesses, independent retail consultants Someday Studios, along with Westminster City Council, will provide store design, mentoring, management, and marketing assistance. This comprehensive support package presents an exciting opportunity for small businesses seeking to make their mark in London’s West End.

While Meanwhile On: Oxford Street is a brand-new venture, it draws inspiration from successful pilot schemes. One such example is Kitty McEntee, the founder of Lab Tonica, who participated in a short-term pop-up initiative by Westminster City Council in 2021. This opportunity allowed Lab Tonica to establish connections with other retailers on Oxford Street, eventually securing a permanent concession in Selfridges, marking a turning point for the brand.

Petit Pli, a sustainable children’s clothing brand, also benefited from Westminster City Council’s support with a short-term pop-up, showcasing their innovative design process. As a result, the brand now operates its permanent unit in London and has thrived with the additional exposure.

Start-ups and pop-ups

Innovative and up-and-coming small businesses that can offer something unique to customers are encouraged to apply for this opportunity. Whether it’s through remarkable products, engaging events, immersive experiences, or unique concepts, brands that meet the criteria outlined in the application are invited to participate. Moreover, new opportunities will continue to roll out over the coming months and years as more units become available.

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The Meanwhile On: Oxford Street programme is projected to support approximately 35 brands over three years, with the first store set to open in autumn 2023. Councillor Geoff Barraclough, cabinet member for planning and economic development, expressed his excitement about welcoming new brands to one of Europe’s most famous streets and supporting them with rent-free spaces, reduced business rates, and promotional assistance.

Dee Corsi, CEO of New West End Company, emphasised the significance of the West End as a globally recognised retail and leisure destination: “The addition of pioneering brands, through the Meanwhile On programme, is just one of many indicators of the district’s wider growth, and we look forward to welcoming the successful applicants to the area.”

For businesses eager to seize this unparalleled opportunity to make their mark on Oxford Street, applications can be submitted via the programme’s website.

[Read more: Will the “experience economy” transform the struggling British high street?]

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