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Death of the megastore

Retail is dead, or so it seems, if one considers that the hallowed chain of retail outlets, Virgin Megastores, will become history by June this year, writes Parag Kamani.

music Updated: Apr 28, 2009 21:25 IST

Retail is dead, or so it seems, if one considers that the hallowed chain of retail outlets, Virgin Megastores, will become history by June this year. The beginning of the end was when founder Richard Branson sold the UK arm of his business in 2007, and the new chain was named Zavvi. I managed to see the former Virgin Megastore at Oxford Street in London last year, but it failed to exude the same charm and feel that its earlier avatar had.

Beginning of the end
If I could have ventured a guess then, I could say that I saw the end. A pity, really, as the once-great music shopping centre for all those familiar with the city, changed from selling music into catering to home video and gaming too. And to find that the first Virgin Megastore opened in Oxford Street in 1971 makes the transition of the chain into obsolescence that much more difficult to fathom. Of course, there’s a probable situation that the Zavvi chain itself will be history by the time you read this.

Recession takes a toll
In the US too, the most famous of the Virgin Megastores, based in New York’s Time Square, is closing. Branson sold his North American chain in 2007 to private investors. Apparently, the current owners believe that the monies they are likely to receive from renting the space is far more than the revenues flowing from running the store. I personally believe that this argument is an eye wash before the inevitable end of the entire Virgin Megastores chain in the US too.

In these recessionary times, which is likely to extend upto two years, I wonder what kind of rental income can be expected even if the property is dubbed prime? The reality of the situation is that with declining music sales, even including clothing, electronics, and books into your catalogue is never going to be enough to sustain expenses. What a far cry for a billionaire entrepreneur who once rocked the music world with a mix of brash stunts and splashy launches.

Start to finish
The genesis of music chains shutting down commenced with Tower Records in 2006 – I used to patronize one of their stores during my annual visits to Singapore since 1992 – and it was probably only a matter of time when the other chains followed suit.

In India too, as retail chains are either placing a freeze on their expansion plans or are actually reducing their number of outlets, it appears only a matter of time that some of them will face an unfortunate proposition similar to that of Virgin Megastores. While most of the world now goes online for music content –– be it through iPods, computers, or cell phones –– for me, there will never be an alternative to visiting a music store.