Westminster City Council has been playing “whack-a-mole” with American candy stores on Oxford Street, as the number of unscrupulous shop operators has returned to peak levels, Retail Week can reveal. 


The stores have come under fire for illegal activity and tax evasion, which Westminster City Council estimates to be worth in the region of £8m

Despite a crackdown by the council in November, which saw a third of stores shuttered, the number of American candy stores operating from Oxford Street has returned to peak levels, according to exclusive data from Local Data Company (LDC). 

A survey of traders on Oxford Street this month revealed there are now 29 candy and souvenir stores open on the capital’s busiest shopping street, the same number of stores as there were at their peak in 2020. 

This is despite of a series of raids orchestrated by Westminster City Council in November, which saw the number reduce to 21 and a huge haul of suspect and unsafe items, some 14,000 products, being seized.

The stores, which have grown in number significantly since 2017, have come under fire for illegal activity and tax evasion, which the council estimates to be worth in the region of £8m to the taxpayer. At the end of 2017, there were 17 of these stores on Oxford Street.

The survey by LDC found the council was increasingly playing “whack-a-mole” with these traders, and of the 12 stores closed down in November 2022, nine had been replaced by similar shops by February, and only 18% of these stores had been reoccupied by a retailer offering a different category of goods. 

The council’s raids found stores attempting to sell a wide range of unsafe or illegal products, including £22,000 worth of fake Wonka chocolate bars, which trading standards suspect were bought as own-brand chocolate from supermarkets and repackaged – resulting in a 43p chocolate bar being sold for upwards of £8. 

Other items for sale included excessively strong vapes, suspected fake designer goods, counterfeit Apple iPods and tobacco products without the legally mandated health warnings. 

A smaller raid carried out in January 2023 seized £120,000 worth of goods in just one month. 

Westminster City Council leader Adam Hug said: “We are dealing here with a sophisticated operation that is skilled at exploiting UK legal loopholes. There is a glaring lack of governance around setting up companies in the UK with only cursory checks on who the directors are – there are more checks involved if you want to get a local authority library lending card.

“We need the new Economic Crime Bill to help clamp down on these loopholes and to provide government agencies such as Companies House and HMRC with the powers and funding they need. As a council, we are doing all we can – but we need increased cross-government support to make life sour for the sweet shop racketeers.”