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HMV in talks to depart Oxford Street, say sources

By | Published on Monday 6 February 2017


Following the collapse of HMV Canada last month, HMV UK is back under the spotlight because – even though the Canadian operation is very much a separate business – it is owned by the same parent company and high street entertainment retail remains challenging pretty much everywhere. Hence there was lots of chatter when Property Week reported on Thursday that HMV was planning on leaving behind London’s Oxford Street.

The property industry title said that it “understood” that the owner of the building occupied by HMV on London’s most famous shopping thoroughfare was now negotiating a “lease surrender” through estate agents Savills, which would see the entertainment retailer depart the store and allow landlords Glory Step Investments to find a new tenant.

Although just one shop, HMV’s base at 363 Oxford Street is notable because it was the famous music seller’s first ever store when it opened as The Gramophone Company in 1921. The retail firm actually departed those premises in 2000 in order to expand its Oxford Street presence with a bigger unit down the road. But after the collapse of HMV plc, new owners Hilco moved the chain’s Oxford Street base back to 363, cleverly spinning what was a downsize of its central London operation as a admirable return to the retailer’s roots.

Nevertheless, HMV has had a flagship store on Oxford Street throughout its existence, with the exception of a two-year relocation to Bond Street in the 1930s as a result of a fire. Therefore, while a departure from Oxford Street might not mean much in commercial terms in 2017, it would still be symbolic of something.

For its part, Hilco told Music Week that there was “no agreement in place” for HMV to leave Oxford Street, though that doesn’t necessarily mean those “lease surrender” negotiations aren’t ongoing.

The spokesperson said: “While we don’t usually comment on individual stores, there is no agreement in place to close the Oxford Street store. The HMV portfolio is constantly evolving in order to ensure it best suits the strategy of the business and there are at least two new store openings taking place this year, with more likely to follow”.

It is definitely true that since Hilco bought HMV out of administration in 2013 with a streamlined network of stores, it has been reshuffling its property portfolio on a pretty regular basis. This has involved both closing and opening stores, and often moving HMV operations from expensive high street units to more cost efficient locations – Hilco having never made any secret of its bid to keep HMV’s overheads down as much as possible.

Of course, while all that reshuffling has usually been reported in the local press, it rarely gets much attention from the London media and the London-centric music industry, which is another reason why a departure from Oxford Street has more symbolism – a lot more people in the record industry will notice. It remains to be seen if HMV does indeed depart 363 Oxford Street once again and, if so, whether it sets up shop somewhere cheaper in central London.