I Worked For the Last Virgin Megastore in America
Still, Virgin was more than a music store in more ways than one. Of course it also sold movies, books, video games and, at that point, phones and beverages. But Virgin's location right outside the Union Square subway stop where so many trains connected made it a certifiable meet-up spot and hang-out for those of us who music, or media in general, still excited. Whether killing time, seeking out the perfect gift or checking out a band's in-store, Virgin really emphasized the community aspect of music consumption. I know that sort of romanticism is usually reserved for the mom and pop independent music stores, who I also adore, but dare I say at this point Virgin offered such an experience too, especially then.
Tower Records had been closed two years. Circuit City was in the process of liquidating. FYE was seemingly nowhere near Manhattan, and Sam Goody had been long gone. At this particular juncture, the people who worked at Virgin were the last bastion of "record store people." Whatever drew us to that glowing red emblem was a shared passion for music both mainstream and obscure, And while the only record absolutely everybody seemed to agree on was Fugees' The Score, every type of listener who came in could be properly serviced by an expert in some field. It's this shared dedication that I feel really was what bonded us employees in these dying days.
Ellen Miller Young Virgins at the End Awaiting Their Fate
Of course, we didn't really know these were the end times, not for quite a while. Following the announced closing of the Times Square location, we were assured that, because we were the top earning Virgin location, we were completely safe. Job security doing something you love is a wonderful feeling, so pretty much every day at Virgin consisted of hanging out with some of my best friends and discussing my passions with people willing to spend money on them. Given that Virgin had a lot of shelf space for independent and catalog titles, it was always a good feeling putting someone on to a record or an artist that would be brand new to them.
There would be challenging times, like during the holidays when we were advertising being open an hour early, usually leading to these hours having a total of one (1) extra customer right as doors opened to exchange his defective Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez documentary for a different copy, or near midnight on Thanksgiving where a fully grown adult confusingly asked where he could find "an instructional DVD on intercourse for adults" because he didn't feel comfortable saying the word "pornography." You would also get the homeless crusty punk spending $23 entirely made-up of pocket change for an import CD, the vacationing European couples buying every iteration of soundtracks from The Crow franchise, and the gentleman who would put on the headphones at the world music listening station and practice his martial arts on a daily basis. But the bulk of people who walked through those doors were mainly interested in purchasing music and movies, which was pretty cool. Even the apprehension of shoplifters, usually a tense moment in any business, was alleviated by the in-store DJ playing Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing" at the moment of capture, followed a few minutes later by Inner Circle's "Bad Boys" when the police came to take them away.