Anthony France investigates the controversial Oxford Street candy stores
It is Friday afternoon and Oxford Street is thronging with tourists walking down the world’s most famous shopping promenade as Londoners spill out of pubs. Little did the tourists expect when they came here that so many of the stores would be weird American-style candy and souvenir shops. And little do they know that behind the gaudy exteriors, activities like the sale of illegal goods and money laundering are taking place. Authorities are finally cracking down on this criminality, as well as many millions in unpaid business rates, but how did the West End turn into the Wild West for all these cowboys? When the Standard visited these Oxford Street shops to ask their owners some serious questions, we were stonewalled by staff clearly trained not to provide any information. At one sweet shop a worker told us: “I’ll call my boss. When he comes, I can give him your business card. He’s not in today. He’ll maybe return tomorrow. I’ve just started so I’m only in charge today.” A few doors down at a souvenir shop, an employee said: “The boss is not here. He’s coming in maybe one or two weeks. He doesn’t come every day, just one or two hours then he’s going back. He’s doesn’t have any timetable.” This first line of defence is a blandly frustrating tactic that belies a situation at breaking point. Earlier this month the head of Westminster council called on the National Crime Agency to crack down on these shops, and their rap sheet is long and telling: trading standards have seized more than £1 million of counterfeit goods including fake Rolex watches and Apple products, along with super-strength vapes with illegal amounts of nicotine.