I also have fond memories of the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street when it first opened in 1979. Most UK shops used the 'masterbag' system where you took the empty sleeve to the counter and exchanged it for a record.
At Virgin it was different - they had acres of shrink wrapped sleeves... with records in them! (It was so unusual at the time that you had to leave any bags you had at the front desk). It wasn't a particularly a place to hang out in (unlike the aforementioned Volunteers or RT) but you could get lost for hours in there, just perusing the racks. It was so exotic - I don't think I'd ever seen so many records in one place. By 1982 I had moved up to London and spent a lot of time hanging around in another Virgin on Oxford Street - a much smaller one which was below street level, and which specialised in more 'alternative' music - 23 Skidoo, Whitehouse, ACR etc
I lived in Brighton in 1979. The clocktower Virgin had closed and a much smaller branch opened on the opposite side of the road. That's what I was used to - small record shops. In '79 my mate Lyndon moved to London and I used to stay with him in his bedsit in Hackney, going to gigs and record shopping etc. One weekend in the Autumn of '79 I went up to see him. We dropped some mushrooms on Saturday morning and went to the new Virgin Megastore on Oxford St. What a trip. I couldn't believe the size, it was a mind-blowing magical wonderland. As you say in your piece - no master-bagging, all the stock was 'live'.... and not just a Can se ction - but a Monster Movie section, an Ege Bamyasi section, a Tago Mago section etc ... with vast numbers of each title on display, racked out and all sealed. Even though I was heavily altered I managed to get it together to buy a whole truckload of great albums - most of which I still possess: Faust IV and Monster Movie for £1.99, Ron Geesin albums for £1.49, some import reggae releases and a whole load of rare European avant garde titles like Art Zoyd, Aksak Maboul and Univers Zero. After that we went for a long walk 'round London, had a couple of pints and then went to see This Heat play under the YMCA on Charing Cross Rd. What a great day
I was probably around 12 or 13 when I first became obsessed with buying albums and that was pretty much who I was as a kid. No football or stuff like that, my friend Terry & I were into music and pretty much stuck together in that. I had a big sister who had boyfriends that were around 17 and into Pink Floyd and Wishbone Ash, and I guess they were my heroes at the time. I would be distraught when she broke up with any of them - they were my fountain of all knowledge. I must have been the typical nuisance kid brother wanting to hang around them.
This resulted in me constantly touring the Virgin Records shops around London when they were dingy underground places and each had their own plastic carrier bags designed by Roger Dean. Rasher