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Virgin hopes megastore seduces L.A.

Virgin Retail Group’s U.S. invasion starts today, as the international entertainment software retailing giant plans a noon grand opening at 8000 Sunset Blvd., for the first of an anticipated eight to 10 Virgin Megastores in the U.S.

The 30,000-square-foot entertainment center, whose ribbon-cutting will be presided over by Virgin chairman Richard Branson and pop singer Belinda Carlisle , will carry more than 100,000 audio titles and 50,000 video and videogame titles.

The store also features a full-time disc jockey, a cafe serving cappucino, sandwiches and cakes, 75 listening stations for audio products and numerous video and videogame outlets. The store carries such cutting-edge software as laserdiscs, CD-I and CD-ROM, in addition to clothing. Performance stages are available inside and outside the store. Some 9,000 video titles will be available for rent, with 20,000 titles on sale. Laserdiscs also will be for sale and rent.

The first Virgin Megastore was opened in London in 1979. Virgin currently operates 60 retail outlets in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Austria, Holland, Japan and Australia.

Branson and partner and Blockbuster chairman/CEO H. Wayne Huizenga gave a tour of the still-under-construction store yesterday afternoon for the press.

Virgin spent $ 6 million developing the Sunset Boulevard site. It is partnered with Blockbuster Entertainment and Singapore businessman B.S. Ong (previously undisclosed and a player in Asian Hard Rock Cafes and the fashion industry) in a joint venture to develop megastores in the United States.

Over the next two years, the chain will roll out stores in San Francisco, Phoenix, Boston, New York, Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Miami. Two more stores also will be added in the Los Angeles area, Branson said.

Although Virgin is partnered with the conservative Blockbuster, which does not carry X-rated videos and restricts NC-17 product to its franchised stores, Virgin will not restrict any audio titles or other software, Branson said. However, he added that certain records advocating violence will be carefully reviewed and subject to possible store stickering and sales restrictions, although Branson termed the likelihood “incredibly rare.”

“We won’t censor product,” Branson said, adding that the stores won’t strive to aim at the family, a la Blockbuster.

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