As Downtown Reopens, Iconic Virgin Megastore on Martyrs’ Square Closes
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I celebrated one of my birthdays as a teenager at the Virgin Cafe in the balcony area above where they used to sell the records and DVDs… Who among us hasn’t had a dinner or lunch on their rooftop? How many birthday gifts have you bought from there, from books, to guitars and other geeky gadgets and trinkets? Well, it’s gone now.

The Art-Deco style “Opera House” was built in the 1930s, and has been a Virgin Megastore flagship store in the region since 2001. The rising cost of rent, the dwindling sales of records and DVDs with online streaming taking over, as well as the government-enforced gridlock on Downtown Beirut for the past 8 or 9 years, meant that staying open there made no sense for the Virgin Megastore people, who have instead shifted to opening up in malls all over Lebanon instead.

It’s kinda ironic that days after the authorities decided to reopen this public square to taxpayers, one of the last establishments in that few blocks shuttered up.

Despite the nostalgia most of us have when it comes to that particular Virgin Megastore, I personally hope the building becomes an opera house again, a place where we can go and enjoy the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra and other performances, like it was meant to be when it was built.

This begs the question whether or not the Central District will spring back to life. Personally, I am skeptical, especially if the current political class stays the same. How many times has this area risen up, then slowly got torn down? Whether it’s Nejmeh Square, or Uruguay Street more recently, the excitement proves to be always short-lived, thanks to heavy-handed tactics by the government to turn public squares into military bases for themselves and parking lots for their tinted-window, taxpayer-bought motorcades.

Goodbye Virgin Megastore Downtown! We had some good times, but I hope this building becomes an opera house again instead of another retail space…

Building in the 1930s (left) and 2000s (right)

As Downtown Reopens, Iconic Virgin Megastore on Martyrs’ Square Closes was originally published in Gino’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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