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All remaining Virgin Megastores shutting down


Hello, Amazon! All six of the remaining Virgin Megastores in the US will be shutting down by summer:

After nearly two decades of rocking the music world with a mix of brash stunts and splashy CD releases, the remaining six Virgin Megastores in the United States will shut their doors this summer in another blow to recorded music.

The hipster shops received their branding from billionaire founder Sir Richard Branson and remained profitable, but the real estate firms that own the U.S. chain determined they could command higher rent from new tenants.

“I’ve been pushing back a little bit on the notion that this is just another casualty of the music industry,” said Simon Wright, the chief executive of Virgin Entertainment Group Inc.

The two stores in New York, at Times Square and Union Square, were both profitable, but not as profitable as the planned new tenants, a Forever 21 or –gah — a CVS? Yet another case of greedy real estate developers chipping away at the fabric of life as it was once lived.

We can’t speak for the other US Virgin locations — San Francisco, Denver, Orlando, and Hollywood — but this means that in Manhattan, the only remaining big places to buy a CD or DVD will be B&N and Borders — and we wouldn’t count on the last named being around much longer either. By our reckoning, the last freestanding music store in Manhattan is Other Music on 4th Street, which got its start as a small, quirky indie alternative to then-giant Tower across the street. Turns out the quirky place is the one where riffling through the racks is possible.

While online shopping, piracy, and Netflix made leaving your house to gather electronic entertainment unfashionable, we still find all of this horrifically sad. Don’t misunderstand — we only buy a few physical CDs a year, but it was always exciting to go to the Virgin store and see all of the physical world of pop culture laid out in front of you, from giant posters for the latest American Idol grad, to the new Home Improvement boxed sets, to comics and books and…stuff. The actual proximity of clashing visions and ideas was — and is — exciting and inspiring, far more so than displays of more skanky clothes to meet guys in.

Maybe we’re just overoptimistic, or nuts, or something, but we totally see the best comics shops — like Forbidden Planet, just a few steps down from Union Square Virgin — as the new record stores, the cool place where you went once a week to get your fix, look “cool” and check out trends. The audiences are far smaller, to be sure, but in the current retail environment, size doesn’t really matter.

It’s youth cultural shift of a seismic proportion from even 15 years ago. But perhaps it helps explain why comics shops sales aren’t sliding quite as quickly as the rest of the economy.


  1. The best thing about our local Virgin Megastore was the sampling wall, with dozens of new releases loaded in DC players with headphones. I can’t begin to guess how many albums I wouldn’t have bought without the ability to listen to more than just a few 30-second clips of the boring part of a song.

  2. Doomsayers.

    Home Improvement dvds & American Idol posters are some of the finest shantytown building products known to man.

  3. I think comic shops can take over as cultural hangouts but only the well-run people friendly ones like Isotope in SF or Secret Headquarters in LA. Too often suburban comic shops are managed and dressed like a cross between a head shop and adult book store. No matter how much I love my comics I simply don’t want to spend more time than I have to in places like that.

  4. I think it depends on the city. Here in San Francisco, I had no motivation to hoof it all the way downtown for the Virgin Megastore, especially when Amoeba Records over on Haight was closer and had a better selection of new & used music.

    I agree with you about the comics shop being the “cool” place now. I enjoyed going each week to Comic Relief when I worked in Berkeley, especially because there was something for everyone on the racks.

  5. Of course, half a block away in Union Square is a Walgreens. Could be worse… could be a bank or a Starbucks moving in. (Given the size of the store, and the design of the building, I see it being split in two.)

    WAIT A MINUTE! The Union Square location… they share that space with Circuit City! Sweet mother of god… mash them together and somebody put a Target there!

    FYE is in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

    And not to brag, but having worked in the DVD/CD department at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble store, my coworkers are walking encyclopedias of music and movies. (Many we snatched when Tower closed down.) Live music? Another Tower alum brought his rolodex with him and we now host three music series every week. For stuff we can’t get, we usually send people to J&R Music World. Or you can walk across the street to the Library of the Performing Arts.

  6. Maybe I am just being unimaginative, but I can’t fathom how a Forever 21 store could possibly fill the huge footprint occupied by the Times Square Virgin Megastore. (That said, my only encounter with Forever 21 was when I went into one in our local mall to buy a giftcard for my niece last Christmas.)

  7. My feeling about comic book shops is really mixed. Of course, I love them, but I also feel like they fueled the direct market clusterf**k that was the 90s and I also think that if I had to choose between spinner racks back in grocery stores and shops, I’d go with spinner racks. But the comic shop push for fancier books, more covers and etc. helped drive up the cover price and move them out of normal spaces.

    It’s fun to be there, but I think comic shops have hurt the form and I think they will also stand in the way of future innovation (primarily via the web and iTunes stuff) that might get our form back in front of normal people.

    So, I don’t know. I also think that for them to really become cool they would need to be opened and run by non-comics people with a vision for being a profit generating space rather than being a place that sells comics. A place that had it’s own vision for the look of a store rather than an amalgamation of whatever poster overload the publishers were pushing.

    Pretty skeptical. And not really in love with the comics shops place in our favorite form.

  8. “I think it depends on the city. Here in San Francisco, I had no motivation to hoof it all the way downtown for the Virgin Megastore, especially when Amoeba Records over on Haight was closer and had a better selection of new & used music.”

    Indeed, I don’t know what american comic shops are like but every single one in the UK has been a place where I want to get in and out of as quickly as possible (with a couple of exceptions).

    The mind boggles at the idea that a FP would be considered a “cool” (heh – and that term dates me and the Beat) place to hang out.

  9. I have checked with the yoof of today (my nieces) – and it seems that comic shops need to be the “mint!” place to be seen.

    “that shop is well mint”.

  10. I get my books mail order. (Amazon Prime.)

    I get my comics mail order. (MailOrderComics.com for the big four, Amazon for the rest.)

    I get my music through the Internet. (Amazon MP3 and eMusic.)

    I don’t watch a lot of movies.

    Remember the days when it was fun to go to a dusty, untrafficked bookstore and search through the stacks and find really cool stuff? There aren’t any anymore. They’re all Starbucks and CVSs and GameStops and stuff selling the exact same thing to the exact same customers.

    I love the networked age…but I miss the dusty junk culture shops.

  11. Never fear, Heidi! The island has tons of freestanding music stores, very much intact.

    Off the top of my head, my regular stops include Rock and Soul in midtown, Phat Beats and Bleecker Bob’s and Revolver in the West Village, Turntable Lab, Rockit Scientist, Norman’s Sound and Vision, and Academy Records in East Village, Halcyon in DUMBO. Of course, most of that is for actual vinyl but every one of them has CDs, too. And there are a lot more than that meager list!

    And you can still get that pop culture flood — I think one of the best Saturday afternoons is to track a route from Norman’s to St. Marks Books to Kim’s Video to St. Marks Comics and wind up at Yaffa’s or a sushi place to look through all your treasures.

    More importantly, good luck to all the Virgin Store employees who will be getting hit at the worst possible time.

  12. What about J&R Music World on Park Row South? That’s always been Manhattan’s premiere place to buy records, CD’S and Videos. They’re not going anywhere.

  13. Park Row! That’s crazy talk! I only go there once every two years or so.

    Actually Best Buys sell cds and dvds, although you’re not too likely to find Luke Vibert there.

  14. The center of hipster books and round shiny CD’s gone? Sad! It was a good hangout place, spacious and the like!

    Let us hope this three story epic CVS is everything that we hope it is!

  15. In Boston, they’ve been doing the music/comics retail combo for years, so successfully it’s spread to other New England states. Check out Newbury Comics when you get a chance.

  16. Like the placing of those stores wasn’t due to greedy real estate developers driving out other tenants in the first place.

  17. You can’t equate failing music stores to comic shops. I survey my class (usually music business majors) each semester and the _only_ college kids buying non-downloaded music are the ones DJing.

    The under-30 crowd wants very little to do with CDs. Comics (and books) may be starting to slide to digital, but music already slid.

    Did the video half of Kim’s @ St. Marks close too? That’s just depressing.

  18. Interesting how there’s lamentation over the loss of a big box chain that forced a fair number of independent record stores out of business across the country in the first place. Which is not me tsk-tsking; that’s evolution. I love good independent and mom-and-pop DVD/book/DVD shops, but I’m also a major and unapologetic Amazon.com evangelist.

    There are still some solid indie record stores in NYC and Brooklyn: Generation Records on Thompson, Bleeker Bob’s and Strider near Washington Park, Earwax and Sound Fix in Brooklyn. However, those are in danger too…like the wonderful, recently-closed Etherea on Avenue A (which perhaps might start up again under a former employee).

    I’m not lying when I say I’ll miss hanging around Virgin for a couple hours, but I always find more interesting things to listen to, buy, and conversation in stores like the ones I’ve mentioned above. If your former be-all end-all of record/CD shopping was Virgin, I highly recommend exploring NYC’s independent record stores. I think your custom there will be appreciated and help the music culture of Manhattan/Brooklyn, too.

  19. John:

    I always had a great time at Etherea and Other Music, and agree…going to a true music (or book lovers) store is always rewarding.

    However I always loved going to Tower or Virgin as well. Maybe it was the very crassness of it. Tower used to be my go-to place every weekend, usually for remixes (which they had a great selection of) and magazines. It was fascinating to see how comics and toys gradually worked their way into both Tower and Virgin…

    As I speculated in a tweet, now that I’m thinking about it more, it makes sense that Best Buy has become the new “go to” store. It includes the transport devices AND the media. Younger consumers are obsessed with their cel phones and other gadgets…the music or movies to play on them are easily purchased sight unseen.

    I wonder how long until we hit the Japanese model of cel phone novels?

  20. Something to show how hard it is for “mainstream” music stores to operate:

    I just got an email from bn.com stating I can buy U2’s new release on CD for the low low price of $12.99.

    Deepdiscount.com emailed me earlier that it’s available for $9.99.

    And Amazon sold me a download of the thing for $4.

    Not only can Amazon kick brick-and-mortar-and-plastic-and-jewel-case on price, but I’ll bet that the Barnes and Noble across the street doesn’t have a copy of the Stabilisers album that’s a heck of a lot more fun to listen to than U2’s album, either.

    (To be fair to BN, they did have a copy of Fairies of New York by Martin Millar in the preferred trade format last week.)

  21. Oooh? The new U2 album is up on Amazon downloads for $4? Thanks for letting me know! I’d better go snap it up before they raise the price…

  22. Oooh! The new U2 album is up on Amazon downloads for $4? Thanks for letting me know! I’d better go snap it up before they raise the price…

  23. “Park Row! That’s crazy talk! I only go there once every two years or so.”

    Let me guess–when you’re called for jury duty, right? One of the nice parts about serving jury duty in NYC is that it’s not far from the J&R stores; browsing during lunch can make the day go faster.

    “WAIT A MINUTE! The Union Square location… they share that space with Circuit City! Sweet mother of god… mash them together and somebody put a Target there!”

    That’d be something. Certainly, there are plenty of folks who’d love a permanent Target in Manhattan.

    For what it’s worth, the Villager had reported that some Circuit City staffer mentioned that Wal-Mart was interested in the space, but a Wal-Mart spokesman said the company had no announced plans for a NYC store. Also, apparently, there were discussions to get a Nordstrom in that space, but those plans fell through.

    J.C. Penny is still apparently set to open in the Manhattan Mall sometime this year, so it’s unlikely they’d be interested in the space. Any other big-box candidates come to mind?

  24. Here is the fundamental problem – people looking at stores as hangout and not places of business. Whatever one thinks of the Megastore (crass, tacky, great bargains, too cool), they are not libraries and they are not public parks. The same goes for more independent record, toy, comic and book stores.

    You buy from them, they make money and continue to operate. You don’t buy from them, linger around instead and sooner or later you will look for a new place to waste someone’s time.

    If the store can’t sell its merchandise, don’t expect it to stay around just so you can look cool. And if you think comic stores or other places are “the cool place where you went once a week to get your fix, look ‘cool’ and check out trends”, don’t bother. We don’t want your type distracting other businesses, driving away paying customers and possibly running them into the ground.

  25. I just remembered that just before Bill Liebowitz shifted off this mortal coil, that he did try to merge another Golden Apple location with a Rhino Records retail store out here in Westwood and West Lost Angeles.

    Sadly, it didn’t work out (even the Rhino store is now out of business)- but thinking back, I’ve always considered Bill Liebowitz to be a retailer ahead of his time.



  26. Up here in the wilds of New England, Newbury Comics is the place to go for comics and music and other fun stuff. Their comics sections are kinda slim, but there’s a better chance of picking up the new Umbrella Academy at Newbury than at my LCS here in Milford.

    Also, Sarge’s Comics in New London is pure awesome. It reminds me of Forbidden Planet in NYC back in the day when it took up two floors across the street from its current cramped quarters, when the basement was stocked with old comics and Japanese toys. Make sure you visit before taking the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard; it’s worth the trip.

  27. Dave beat me to it–The Virigin Megastore’s a big corporate behemoth, sure, but it’s a five-minute walk from work, and I could always count on finding a last-minute birthday present there.

    Their $5 and $10 bins are pretty expansive, too. I picked up some really nice two-disc editions of Citizen Kane, Casablanca and Apocalypse Now there yesterday for $10 a pop. I’ll start spending a bit more at Amoeba and Rasputin’s now, I guess, but my big concern is what happens to downtown San Francisco if the Megastore closes and once Sony pulls out of the Metreon. Downtown isn’t nearly as bustling without the Megastore and the Metreon…

  28. In the fabled place where I live, the CDs now dwell in the mall or in the big box. HMV, WalMart and Costco. One dusty and poorly ventilated used shop, one clean and bright indie shop. Atmosphere? Shopping carts and flourescent light, or haz mat and hapless.

    Comics? Three Local Comic Shops, each shop combines comics and gaming. Dusty, poorly ventilated places staffed by guys in tshirts. Tables where guys in beards and tshirts play games.
    Atmosphere? Spooky and angst ridden.

  29. Hey, Heidi. I’m not really sure why the original post still says that Other Music is the only freestanding music store in NYC. I got all riled up and was all set with a post about the other amazing independent stores that are still operating, only to find that others have already done so.

    And while I love Other Music, I’m not sure why you’re not also giving shout outs to standouts like Bleeker Bob’s, Bleeker Street Records, Kim’s (which still has a location at 1st Ave), Rockit Records, Housingworks, Academy…the list goes on.

  30. “Mia — all your verbs are in the Past tense. What do you do, where do you go now? Do you leave the house? ”

    I’m pretty sure I leave the house these days. I haven’t mastered astral projection yet, so I have to actually commute to work.

    All my verbs are past tense because I was having super crappy grammar yesterday. But it kind of works, because I don’t actually have a lot of money to spare for music (or comics) these days. I don’t recall the last time I went to buy music – all my money goes towards bills.

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