Stores pay price in lost business

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Shops in central London lost millions of pounds when customers stayed away from the capital because of intense security surrounding President George Bush's visit, retailers said yesterday.

The Oxford Street Association, which represents 132 West End stores, said the streets were "virtually empty" during the President's three-day stay.

Stores were said to be down on their daily targets during the visit and hope the missing customers will return over the five weeks before Christmas.

Sally Humphreys, the association's director, said: "Oxford Street was virtually empty during the visit.

"There was a great deal of publicity about the centre of London being closed off and Grosvenor Square was closed, very close to us. All we can say is that the retailers are hopeful that people who did not go into London during those three days will now come before Christmas."

She said stores could have lost "hundreds of thousands or even millions" of pounds in trade. But she added: "I'm not sure [the police] could have handled the security in any other way.

"When you are a retailer in London you just have to live with this sort of thing."

The London Chamber of Trade and Commerce played down fears about the impact on business. A spokesman said the state visit would have a positive effect on the capital's medium-term prospects because of Britain's strong transatlantic trade links.

He said: "Early in the week we were very concerned about the effect of the visit, but the problems do not seem to have materialised. In the medium term the effect will be positive."

The Confederation of British Industry said it believed firms could gain trade worth billions of pounds if the visit helped to persuade President Bush to back away from a trade war with Europe over steel protectionism and other tariffs.

The European Union has threatened to impose tariffs of 8 to 30 per cent on £1.32bn of US imports from next month if the White House does not back down over steel tariffs.

Products that could be affected include: fruit and vegetables, printing machinery, paper, watches, rice, clothing and concrete mixers as well as iron and steel.

A spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry said: "Our emphasis is on our trading relationship with America. There are a number of areas where America is sliding towards protectionism.

"Our trading relationship with the United States means we have more to lose than other countries from a trade war between America and the European Union."