You are here

HMV reopening raises revival hopes for London’s Oxford Street

By AFP - Nov 25,2023 - Last updated at Nov 25,2023

HMV owner Doug Putman holds his dog Ollie outside Oxford Street’s famed store (AFP photo)

LONDON — British music retailer HMV returned to the iconic site of its former flagship store in central London on Friday, in a much-needed boost to the flagging fortunes of the capital’s premier shopping street.

The re-opening of the historic shop comes as authorities fight back against a wave of so-called American candy stores which have plagued central London since the pandemic.

UK 1980s band Madness joined Canadian owner Doug Putman as the store threw open it doors.

Putman said it was a “pretty great moment” and a sign of the “positive direction things are going in here”.

“It is all about balance. There is no problem having the odd candy store here but people don’t need tens of them,” he added.

The entrepreneur even brought his dog Ollie, a dead ringer for Nipper, the original model for the famous HMV logo featuring a dog listening to its late master’s voice coming from a gramophone. HMV stands for “His Master’s Voice”.

Steeped in musical history, the one-time HMV store at 363 Oxford Street was opened in 1921 by English composer Edward Elgar and later helped propel The Beatles to fame.

But in recent years, the capital’s main shopping thoroughfare has struggled as big department stores such as Debenhams and House of Fraser shut.

“It feels like Times Square in New York, heavy on quantity but low on quality,” unimpressed US tourist Brandy Fons, 51, told AFP.

Fons, a film publicist on a visit to London with her teenage daughter Sienna, said they had been struck by the amount of rubbish constantly needing to be cleared up.

“We’ve been to better, a lot better,” she said.

After HMV Oxford Street closed in 2019, it was converted into one of the many unwanted sweet stores that popped up during the pandemic when only food shops were allowed to stay open.

Local authorities say that at its peak, there were 30 candy or souvenir shops on Oxford Street, traditionally home to big, prestigious retailers.

They also accuse them of questionable business practices and say they owe millions in unpaid business taxes.

Geoff Barraclough, of Westminster Council which administers the area, told AFP he believed the reopening of HMV was a real turning point.

“Its testimony that the buzz is back on the nation’s most-loved high street,” he said, highlighting the much-anticipated opening next year of an IKEA store.


‘His Master’s Voice’ 


The new HMV, which will also feature a space for performances and signings, represented “exactly what we want Oxford Street to be all about — an experience beyond traditional retail”, Barraclough added.

The Oxford Street flagship secured its place in musical history in 1962 when Brian Epstein cut a demo for The Beatles in the shop studio.

That led to the Fab Four signing with EMI, the record label that owned HMV until 1996.

But HMV fell into financial distress in 2019 as it struggled to compete with music streaming and the Oxford Street site was forced to close.

The company was eventually rescued by Canada’s Sunrise Records for an undisclosed sum and has since experienced a renaissance under Putman, returning to profit last year.

The turnaround in its fortunes prompted the retailer to announce in April that it would be “back by popular demand on Oxford Street” in time for Christmas.

For some Londoners that cannot come soon enough.

London scaffolder Dave Jacobs, 60, said like many Britons he had fond memories of browsing and buying music in HMV.

The candy stores made the whole street look “trashy”, he said, adding that he was “glad they’re getting rid of them”.

The HMV store was “just a part of London”, he said.


37 users have voted.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.