Vertical sign at Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World
Yester World
Virgin Megastore
and Coco Moka Café

You’re on vacation at Yester World. There’s more to do than just visiting theme parks. Whether you’re looking for a specific, hard-to-find CD or you just want to spend hours listening to whatever kind of music you like, head over to the Virgin Megastore.

There are more than 300 listening stations on the first floor alone. If your taste runs to classical and jazz, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s an enclosed classical and jazz room. Your previews aren’t limited just to music. There are also 20 DVD viewing stations. The children’s department has kid-sized listening and viewing stations.

You don’t need fancy technology to preview books. (Well, you might need reading glasses.) There’s a 10,000 square-foot book department.

Perhaps there will even be a live music performance while you’re there. Get autographs from the music stars.

This store is big—49,000 square feet big.

Exterior of Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World
With this many signs, there’s no doubt you’re at the right store.
Store hours on door of Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World
The Virgin Megastore has long hours.
DVD Racks at Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World
There are plenty of family films in the DVD racks.
Curved wall with posters at Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World
Electronics! Books! Games! Fashion! Music! Movies!
Ten dollar specials at Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World
Who says ten dollars doesn’t buy much any more?
Xbox 360 at Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World
Try out some Xbox 360 games.
Games at Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World
Look for fashion just beyond the games.

Wow! Exploring this store is almost as tiring as visiting a theme park. It’s time to relax. Head to the front-left corner of the second floor.

How about gourmet brewed coffee, or something more decadent; perhaps a white chocolate mocha? Try one of the four Signature Sandwiches, such as “The Cape”—mesquite chicken breast, topped with melted Swiss cheese served on a Kaiser roll with mayo and honey mustard—or “The Buena Vista”—roast beef brisket with chopped onions, melted cheddar cheese and BBQ sauce on a kaiser roll. There are also deli standards, panini sandwiches, salad, and combinations.

The fruit smoothies are not for the indecisive. There are eleven to choose from, and they all sound good: Strawberry Smash; Raspberry Razzler; Banana Burst; Bananaberry; Mango Delight; Tropicalada (piña colada, mango, banana); Berry Apeeling (raspberry, banana); Burst o’ Berry (strawberry ice cream); Wildberry Breeze (strawberry, raspberry); Purple Potion (raspberry ice cream); or Mangolada (piña colada, mango).

Coco Moka Café at Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World
Relax at the Coco Moka Café on the second floor.

Take your Coco Moka Café items to the outdoor balcony high above the West Side. Savor your sandwich. Sip your coffee. Read the book that you’re about to buy. What a nice way to spend some time at Yester World!

The Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney in Florida opened on September 15, 1997, as part of the new West Side. It was the eleventh Virgin Megastore in the United States, and part of a much larger international collection of stores founded by British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

The Virgin Megastore chain in the United States kept growing, reaching a peak of 23 stores.

In the age of iPods, MP3 files, iTunes, Netflix, video-on-demand, Amazon, and Wal-Mart, the Virgin Megastore became the Virgin dinosaur. The chain was headed for extinction. The beast didn’t go out without a fight. Virgin Megastores became iPod retailers. They even tried to sell their own Virgin Player by Virgin Electronics, the electronics unit of the Virgin Group.

The Virgin Megastore chain wasn’t alone in watching their business slide away. At shopping malls, strip malls, and downtowns all over America, familiar stores—Blockbuster Music, Camelot, Coconuts Music & Movies, FYE, Hear Music, Media Play, Music Plus, Musicland, Planet Music, Record Bar, Record Town, Saturday Matinee, Spec’s, Streetside Records, Sam Goody, Suncoast Motion Picture Co., Strawberries, Tape World, Tower Records, Tracks, Turtles, and Wherehouse Music—were closing many or all of their locations. The once-great Tower Records chain closed their last U.S. stores on December 22, 2006. Similar stories happened all over the globe.

In August 2007, a partnership of the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust—two real estate development firms—agreed to buy Virgin Megastores North America. No, these real estate developers didn’t really want to sell CDs, DVDs, books, and electronic gizmos. They were after the real estate. Even though Virgin had leased space, the rents were often well below market. In a New York Post article on August 18, 2007, writer Braden Keil quotes a broker: “There’s rental gold in the Times Square Virgin Store. Virgin is probably paying $100 a foot, compared to the $800 a foot Vornado could be getting today.”

The Virgin Megastore chain in the United States dwindled to just five stores—Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, New York, and Downtown Disney. On March 2, 2009, the company announced that even those five survivors would close by summer. For a short time, it was business as usual. In early April, “30% off” signs popped up all over the Downtown Disney store. (Some customers commented that many items had been on sale previously, and actually cost more after the clearance sale began.)

May 12, 2009, was the final day for the Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney.

The closing left a gaping 49,000 square-foot vacancy across from the Wolfgang Puck Café, between DisneyQuest and the AMC 24 Theatres Complex.

Internet rumors claimed that a flagship Apple Store would be the new tenant. The store would showcase Apple’s product line to Walt Disney World visitors from around the world (with plenty of those visitors also leaving the store with purchases). The biggest Apple store at the time was the London Regent Street location, with over 28,000 square feet of selling space. The rumor turned out to be just wishful thinking by Apple fans.

Sports fans thought the former Virgin Megastore would be perfect for an ESPN Zone. After all, ESPN is owned by Disney. Unlike the Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World didn’t have an ESPN Zone, only the comparatively small ESPN Club at Disney’s BoardWalk. But not only did the space not become an ESPN Zone, but Disney decided to get out of the ESPN Zone business in 2010.

The former Virgin Megastores at New York’s Times Square and Chicago’s Michigan Avenue became Forever 21 clothing stores.

Splitville under construction at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World
Splitville under construction (October 2011 photo)

The first short-term tenant in the former Virgin Megastore at Walt Disney World was “DIANA - The People”s Princess,’ a traveling museum exhibit. The exhibit used 17,500 square feet to showcase dresses once worn by Princess Diana. The admission cost was $14.50 for adults and $5.00 for children (ages 3 to 9). It ran from July 7, 2009 to November 30, 2009.

The next tenant was Ridemakerz, a retailer offering customizable toy cars. The 16,000 square-foot “pop up” store opened March 25, 2010 and closed April 30, 2011.

Then Disney finally found a real tenant. In July 2011, Disney announced that the entire building would be transformed into Splitsville, an upscale bowling alley. An April 2012 Disney press release summarized it this way:

If you think that this is your father’s bowling alley, think again. Splitsville’s 50,000-square foot, two-story Downtown Disney location will have 30 lanes, two kitchens, a dramatic balcony, ample outdoor seating, billiard tables and live entertainment.

Splitsville would even have sushi bars.

Twenty years ago, who would have thought that music stores would be obsolete, but bowling alleys would be in vogue?

Ronald’s Fun House
McDonald’s Dinoland U.S.A.

© 2009-2012 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks
Updated July 26, 2012.
Photographs of Virgin Megastore by Werner Weiss, 2008.
Photograph of Splitsville construction by Werner Weiss, 2011.