xford Street will no doubt be heaving over the weekend as Black Friday kickstarts the traditional Christmas frenzy. But even the first festive season since the opening of the Elizabeth l ine cannot disguise the fact that the West End is in the grip of fundamental long-term change. Spending and footfall will be well up on last year, but between 20% and 30% below the levels seen in 2019.
Who knows when that Covid gap will finally close? Perhaps it never will. Shopping as a physical pastime is in long-term decline and the fall in real disposable income is set to drag on for years.
Meanwhile, as we report today, demand for office space is soaring — despite the hybrid work phenomenon — and Oxford Street and its environs appear to be one of the hottest addresses, in no small part thanks to the extra capacity delivered by the completed Crossrail project. Meanwhile investment in central London commercial property — particularly from Asia — is rocketing.
The result will be a huge shift in the look and feel of Oxford Street over the rest of the 2020s. Two retail behemoths, House of Fraser and Debenham, have already quit the Oxford Street stage, while M&S is locked in a battle with campaigners over the future of its Marble Arch flagship that could see it close the store.
Oxford Street will always be a shopping destination. But powerful market forces are hard to resist.
The good news is that for those retailers who do survive there will soon be thousands of well-paid extra office workers to sell their wares to.