Two months ago, large red posters started appearing in the windows of the Virgin Megastore in Manhattan’s Union Square. “25%-50% off on everything.” By May 18th the sale increased to “30%-50% off” and a sign arrived announcing the furniture and fixtures in the store were up for grabs. Even casual passersby got the news: New York City was losing its last major record store.
The Union Square Virgin Megastore has closed this past Sunday, June 14th. When Tower Records folded in 2006, Virgin earned the dubious honor of being the only large store devoted entirely to music retail remaining in Manhattan. It’s official, there are no more Virgin Megastore locations in the United States. (Virgin’s founder, Richard Branson, sold the Virgin brand to the real estate companies Vornado and Related in 2007; the Times Square Megastore closed in April, after clothing chain Forever 21 purchased its property.) The Denver, Orlando and San Francisco locations all shut down in recent months and the remaining Hollywood location has also closed this Sunday.
Before the doors shut for good the scene inside was filled with people rushing to the store and buying music at stellar prices. Entire racks once filled were now empty. The Virgin Café was turned into an extra register zone. Customers who want to look through the bargain squeezed past one another. The Megastore DJ, who has an elevated private booth that looks over the whole store, rambled like a TV salesman in between songs. “Everything’s on sale people. No refunds. This is it. The Virgin Megastore is closing. This next song’s an oldie but a goodie.” The entire bottom floor, which is nearly twice the size of the main level, was empty and blocked off. “All that’s left in the store is now on the top floor,” said a sales employee who was busy restocking the shelves to meet the great demand.
Most popular albums and titles sold out quick. The racks were stocked with best-of albums, and books, clothes, Vinyl records and DVDs available to those willing to pick through the bins.
So everyone is asking, “After the Megastore closes, where will people line up to buy music like this again?” New York still has a thriving indie-record-store scene, but many smaller shops have also fallen victim to the recession and consumers’ changing record-buying habits. Even the giant Kim’s Video on St. Marks Place recently relocated to a far smaller store. “There’s still Best Buy and J&R, but at those places they just tell you what’s on discount and where to find what you’re looking for,” said one of the floor managers. “It’s sad to lose a place like this where you can just talk about music and hang out. We need a place like this.”
Tho we did see this coming years in the making with free downloads and the birth of MP3 players & iPod’s, but it’s still very sad. A lot of people are commenting that Virgin should have lowered prices to match Best Buy or Target. But what they don’t understand is places like Virgin & all the mom & pop stores were much more than that! You could go in look around for hours, find some great new music that you can’t find in any Best Buy. AND! you got to talk music! The customer service reps at Best Buy don’t care about talking music with their customers! They just point you in the right direction and keep on with their day. You can’t hang out at Target! And you most definitely will not be finding any vinyl there. I have found some of my favorite bands at mom & pop store’s & I still remember the very first time I stepped into the Virgin Megastore in California. I was amazed at the shear mammoth size of this store dedicated to music. Call me old fashion but I have to have physical cd’s in my hand. I need that tangible object to see & feel what I have purchased, I need the cover art in my hand, I want to read the inside to see who wrote what, & read special thank you’s. Yea I think downloading is great and I do own an iPod but all the music that is on that sucker is out of my own collection of music.