It's not the first time a Virgin bolts out of Times Square

(Credit: Urbanite)

Richard Branson shows off his newborn, the Virgin Megastore, on April 22, 1996, the day before it opened. (AP)

Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, remembers the darker days, when neon signs in Times Square flickered: Peep Show, Nude Girls, XXX.

Then came the Virgin Megastore flashing its giant red “Virgin” logo at the Crossroads of the World. The international retailer was among the first — the move was announced in 1994 — to see the potential of one of the city’s most famous locations. Today, the megastore is on the brink of closure.

“We’re very sorry to be losing such a pioneering retailer. But alas, this won’t be the first time in Times Square’s long and colorful history when a virgin has high tailed it out of the neighborhood,” Tompkins texted from his Blackberry on Tuesday.

For Tompkins, news of Virgin’s closing comes with some sadness, because of how big a part the store played in Times Square’s renaissance.

“It was a huge psychological shift for Times Square,” he said by phone yesterday. “It was a name brand that people didn’t expect to have.”

The Virgin Megastore didn’t only chase the seedier elements from the neighborhood, it also took a whack at the city’s independent music stores, which represents a certain irony for Frankie Smith, 36. He bartends near Times Square, lives in Washington Heights and has shopped at Virgin almost twice a week since it opened.

“These guys have knocked the little guys out,” he said while checking out the store’s alternative-music aisles at 1 a.m. yesterday. “And now the little guys are long gone.”

If the Virgin closes he’ll have nowhere left to go: “It’s ridiculous to have to go to Best Buy to buy music.”

Smith laments the erosion of the music industry, losing ground as digital downloads kill the CD.

“It’s sad commentary the music industry when Times Square can’t support a music store,” he said.

-- Garett Sloane

Tags: virgin megastore , times square , endangered nyc , shopping , real estate , manhattan , history , gentrification

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