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London’s West End regains pre-pandemic buzz, boosting sales

By Aby Jose Koilparambil and Suban Abdulla

(Reuters) -London’s West End has seen retail, hospitality and leisure venue sales return to pre-pandemic levels, boosting rent and property demand, commercial landlord Shaftesbury said on Tuesday.

From Carnaby Street to Piccadilly Circus and China Town, shoppers, diners, drinkers and theatre-goers have been packing central London’s streets in the build-up to Christmas, with many drawn by the festive decorations.

London had lagged other parts of Britain in recovering from COVID-19 as workers were slow to return to offices, but pubs have reported stronger demand in the run up to Christmas and international tourists have returned since the summer.

Shaftesbury said it had not yet seen a “significant impact” on the number of shoppers or visitors to its properties from a downturn in Britain’s economy but noted that inflation rates at a 41-year high could hit consumer confidence over time.

“Although London and the West End cannot be immune from the unprecedented range of challenges which are now dominating the national outlook, their long-term prospects remain bright,” Chief Executive Brian Bickell said.

The property firm said in its full-year results that its retail and hospitality tenants were reporting average monthly sales 6% ahead of pre-crisis levels.

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Surveys and official data shows that British consumer confidence is near an all-time low and overall sales volumes are below pre-pandemic levels as inflation limits shopping.

Shaftesbury said that restaurants and pubs in the central London hotspot were primed to benefit from a Christmas season free of lockdowns and crowds watching the World Cup.

Earlier in November, pubs group Fuller, Smith & Turner reported a 67% jump in comparable sales in central London in the first half. Pub group JD Wetherspoon posted a 9.6% rise in like-for-like sales for the first quarter.

Shaftesbury owns around 600 buildings in the heart of the West End. More than a third of the FTSE 250 firm’s property portfolio is occupied by hospitality and leisure firms, while about 27% is retail.

This year Shaftesbury announced a merger with Capital & Counties Properties to create a 5 billion pound ($6 billion) estate.

($1 = 0.8328 pounds)

(Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Suban Abdulla; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Alexander Smith)

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