I just made my final visit to the Virgin Megastore. It closes next week.
A clerk was stacking the remaining books on the floor. I told him I would miss the place. He turned to me and said “yeah…too bad no one really cared about it anymore.”
But I did. In fact, millions did. For over a decade it was a reliable and explosive experience: albums, books, CDs, magazines, DVDs, comics, a coffee shop, gaming systems, action figures, toys, movie theaters, apparel – and a DJ spinning the day’s beats on three cavernous floors that went on forever. For New Yorkers and visitors alike it was one of the most immersive and rewarding retail experiences in the city.
My old office was on 49th Street, so I would hit the place on my way home. Every week or so I’d check out the wall of headphones featuring Billboard’s Top Twenty. I usually walked away with one CD I didn’t even know about before I walked in. The place would be packed with tourist groups from Utah, Long Island high schoolers, college students on dates, couples after the theatre, actors, music junkies, film junkies, gamers – everybody.
The shift started about four years ago. Slowly, kids stopped showing up. Then the lines in front of the headphones slowly disappeared.
The slip was not reversible.
Music – and lots of it – was still selling. Just not here, anymore.
I kept going because I liked the big, crazy buzz of the place. Sure, I started downloading and streaming tons of music. But that experience is solitary, driven by convenience more than curiosity.
The Virgin store made the electric intensity of Times Square tangible. It brought that crackling energy inside so it could be heard, touched, read, worn, eaten, shared with friends and purchased. And it pulled in money. This store alone generated $55 million, with $6 million in profit, according to Reuters.
Change is good. I hope the new Forever 21 store that takes Virgin’s place will inspire similar enthusiasm.
Still, I will miss the experience at Virgin. I will miss all that I discovered there, the magazines I read ( but didn’t actually, uh…buy ) in the cafe and finding odd, unexpected recordings in the CD bins.
I will miss meeting my friend Eric at the last minute to go see A Beautiful Mind in the basement theatre.
I will miss the DVD manager who knew my taste in science fiction. In 2002 he waved the Japanese director Rintaro’s film Metropolis in my face. “You must!” So I did.
I will miss the kid who danced to Ludacris in silence under the headphones.
I will miss the woman in Jazz who grabbed my arm and said “this is what we used to listen to at Paradise Garage. This is music. It makes everybody dance. You will love it.” And I did.
As I left for the last time I walked under a sweeping yellow sales banner.
“EVERYTHING MUST GO” it said.
Change can be good. It’s the life blood that keeps a city alive.
But over the last decade this store changed me every time I walked in.
And that change I will miss most of all.