Behind the shelves of candy, a darker side to London's mysterious American candy stores

London's Oxford Street has been swamped with American-themed candy stores over the past two years. Local officials say they are involved in criminality.

LONDON — No. 363 Oxford St. is a building steeped in British history and culture. For 70 years it was the flagship store of venerated entertainment retailer HMV, helping the Beatles launch their first major record deal in 1962.

Today this landmark is home to Candy World, one of more than two dozen shabby American-themed stores selling candy and trinkets whose recent mysterious explosion on one of London’s most popular shopping thoroughfares has confounded officials and property experts.

Their spread exemplifies the decay of Oxford Street. Gutted by online retail, sky-high business taxes and pandemic lockdowns, it is today suspected of being a haven for criminality perpetrated in plain sight, with the local authority investigating some of the stores in connection with a range of offenses including tax avoidance and selling counterfeit chocolate, watches and vapes.

Telling this story means delving behind the shelves of Jolly Ranchers and Twinkies and into the web of commercial property ownership that spans Hong Kong investment firms and London’s giant real estate companies. It requires negotiating Britain’s opaque system of business and leaseholder registration, which financial experts say enables shady activity to go unchecked.

And yet there is much that perplexes industry figures. Many agree something is not right — but they can’t work out exactly what it is.

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Updated: 1 month ago
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