Over the past couple of years, Oxford Street and other parts of central London have been mysteriously taken over by a scourge of American Candy Shops flogging US sweets (sometimes out of date), super-strength vapes and tacky souvenirs. An investigation by Time Out revealed that many of them were fronts for illegitimate businesses and were being used to avoid business rates, and sometimes commit ‘other civil or criminal offences’.
To combat the clandestine activity and save the flailing high-street, Westminster Council put a hit out on the ubiquitous candy, vape and souvenir shops, and it appears to be doing something.
After raids seizing oodles of candy, alongside legal action, the council says that one-third of the shops have now disappeared, falling from 30 to 21 stores on the street. ‘For unscrupulous sweetshop traders on Oxford Street, life is becoming increasingly sour,’ said councillor Adam Hug,
The authorities claim that the businesses have collectively cost London £8 million through tax evasion. Hug said the shops were also ‘lowering the tone’ of the once superior shopping destination. ‘The rash of mixed sweet and souvenir shops which sprung up on Oxford Street during lockdown have by general consent dragged the tone of the area down, as well as in some cases openly flouting trading standards laws,’ he said.
‘They have fleeced both customers and the taxpayer through widespread evasion of business rates amounting to around £8m. We are continuing to raid shops where we have well-founded suspicions that unsafe or illegal items are being sold.’
In the most recent raid, police ‘recovered 14,000 suspect items from just two shops on Oxford Street – the largest haul we have ever seen in one operation’, according to Hug.
While in another in October, £215,000 worth of fake goods were found in the stores, including counterfeit Rolex watches and over 8,000 vapes with an illegal amount of nicotine.
The police have declared ‘playtime’s over’ for the candy vendors. Oxford Street may have a bright future yet!