Virgin Megastore was truly epic. The massive store was sprawled across the corner of Broad Street Mall, providing a magical haven for music lovers from across the town.
While now a Metro Bank, this shiny, modern building, in Reading town centre, was once a must-visit spot – now most people walk past without a backwards glance. Next to it, Taco Bell, an American Mexican takeaway that was one of the first in the UK, can be found.
Both of these services have undoubtedly been good additions to this part of Reading, but what they took over was far more exciting. The Virgin Megastore was a joyous visit for many ‘90s children.
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The huge superstore sold all things music-related, with the exception of instruments which were instead provided by Modern Music in the Broad Street Mall. They really optimised the Nineties CD boom, while also selling a great variety of heavy metal T-shirts and enormous posters of the bands of that time.
Teenage shopping trips couldn’t be had without stopping by. In addition to the high-priced CDs, cash-strapped youngsters could also pick up their favourite album on cassette – recordings put on on a tape inside a plastic casing for those too young to remember.
However, while it certainly provided great memories for the relevant people, other much-loved stores were forced to close their doors in response to their grand unveiling. These smaller outlets simply couldn’t compete with Richard Branson’s juggernaut.
The Megastore launched in early October 1992, and in its first week in operation, two town centre record shops subsequently shut up shop. The opening of the twin-floored shop led to a major shake-up of the town’s music stores.
The Reading Evening Post reported on Friday 9 October 1992 that one of three branches of Our Price Records was to close while the Oxford Road branch of HMV would no longer stock music. Both were within yards of the Megastore.
An Our Price spokeswoman confirmed the branch at 70 Broad Street was to shut and blamed tougher competition: “The branch is closing down as soon as the lease runs out. It’s part of a move to tighten things up in Reading.
“With Virgin recently opening up, the competition has got tough, and there really is no need to have two branches in one street. Even with this branch closing, we still have two stores in town, one further down Broad Street and the other in the (Broad Street) shopping mall.”
She added that this move wouldn’t mean job losses, with staff simply moving to other branches. However, while those two stories did remain, it didn’t take too long for them to go the same way amid changing consumer habits.
In the first half of the ‘80s, Our Price established itself as the UK’s second largest retailer of records and tapes, second only to Woolworths. The product was soon acquired by WH Smith for £43 million and, in March 1994, WH Smith actually also bought a majority interest in Branson’s Virgin Music retail chain.
This came at a cost as the opening of 23 new Virgin Megastores led to the closure of 19 Our Price branches. In 1998, WH Smith sold both brands to a division of the Virgin Group of companies in response to the stores losing £127 million in the year to date.
By the turn of the century, it was announced that the Our Price name would be dropped from 102 stores, mainly in the South East, in favour of the Virgin name. After a couple of further sales, things went downhill quickly and administrators BDO Stoy Hayward had closed all remaining Our Price stores, resulting in the redundancy of 400 staff members.
Prior to being bought by Virgin, Our Price had been overtaken by another brand, whose expansion in the late ‘80s established a chain of newer, larger stores, which threatened and eventually overtook Our Price in popularity. That particular store happened to be the second which was negatively affected by the Virgin Megastore’s introduction.
That would be HMV, whose main branch was in Friar Street, which closed in February 2011. However, it was their Oxford Road store where changes were afoot.
They opted to dedicate this outlet entirely to selling computer games. A spokesman said: “It was felt there is a demand for games in the Reading area. The Friar Street branch covers the musical side pretty comprehensively. This is just a straightforward conversion.”
The new Oxford Road store became known as HMV Games and was one of the first of its kind in the country, opening on 26 October. Meanwhile, millionaire Branson officially launched the new 11,00 sq ft Virgin Megastore at 11am on Tuesday 13 October ‘92.
The gala opening also featured live performances by top pop acts of the time: Betty Boo, Inspiral Carpets and Julian Cope. The Virgin Megastore chain went into administration on Christmas Eve 2008 and Reading’s store briefly became Zaavi, which closed in February 2009.
The combination of HMV, Our Price and Virgin provided countless people with the destinations of their first bought CD. Of the three, HMV is the only one still standing, seeming to have come out the other side of their own financial struggles.
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