House of Fraser Oxford Street flagship to be redeveloped, retail space downsized
One of Oxford Street’s historic department stores is being redeveloped with the plans that have just been approved being another sign of how retail on what was once Europe’s busiest shopping street has changed forever.
The owners of the House of Fraser (HoF) building now have planning permission for a £100 million redevelopment that will see much of it being converted to office use.
It means that of the trio of neighbouring department stores on the street — HoF, Debenhams and John Lewis — only the latter is continuing in its original form, even though part of its space is also being transformed into offices.
The HoF space at 318 Oxford Street is to be revamped by Public Properties Establishment. The works will see the exterior being extensively refurbished, with the upper floors becoming offices to create six floors of offices in total after the top parts of the building are demolished and rebuilt.
Alongside retail space lower down, there will also be a gym with a basement pool.
West End Ward Councillor Tim Barnes said: “Oxford Street has suffered particularly badly during the pandemic, but Covid-19 just accelerated changes to retail habits that were already taking place. By investing in this flagship building and creating a vibrant mix of uses, the vibrancy of Oxford Street can be assured for residents, visitors and workers.”
And indeed, the street that attracted more footfall than any other shopping street in Europe pre-pandemic has undeniably been one of the biggest casualties of the pandemic. Some businesses that have failed have exited prime sites there while other thriving businesses have chosen to shut their Oxford Street branches. It means the proliferation of development projects at present — and the temporary candy stores have moved into some empty sites — make it less of a shopping magnet than it once was.
The on-again, off-again plans to partly pedestrianise the street and create a people-friendly piazza have also underlined the difficulties Oxford Street faces. And developments such as the purchase of the former Topshop flagship at Oxford Circus by Ikea also highlights how fashion is less of a priority on the street too.
Regent Street just around he corner, by contrast, has seen a succession of prestige openings post-pandemic with more due.
Yet it’s clearly not game over for Oxford Street. A few decades ago, Regent Street itself was in a similar position with plenty of empty spaces and almost permanent building work. Today, however, it’s one of London’s top shopping destinations.
And Oxford Street retains its appeal for brands looking to the future. Only last week, Superdry opened its new flagship in the former Forever 21 store space. And while many other developments — like the HoF one — are less about fashion retail and more about offices or leisure, they’re all focused on boosting foot traffic to the West End in general and creating an environment that can proper in a post-pandemic world.
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