The Virginia Galleries do not exist anymore.
It was the name of a shopping arcade in Glasgow, a pre-Edwardian establishment, with a grand entrance hall which opened up to a skylight ceiling 3 floors above. Located on Virginia Street, off Argyle Street in the heart of town, it was originally known as the Tobacco Exchange, and from 1819 served as the centre of tobacco trade in the city. It later became known as the Sugar Exchange, and finally as The Virginia Galleries, when it served as a hub of independent shops and stores.
The eclectic range of shops housed under it's roof included those specialising in alternative clothing, second-hand books, used videos, posters, trading cards, antiques and much more. Full of character, often dimly lit and truly offering something for everyone, the Virginia Galleries were a local institution.
From 1983 it was also home to Aka Comics, one of the first comic shops in the city, and certainly a key element of the comics boom the city would enjoy in the late eighties and early nineties. An institution in itself, Mark Millar was apparently inspired to start writing comics after meeting Alan Moore at a signing there a few years after it opened.
It was on my first visit to Aka Comics, in 1990 at age eleven, that I would buy one of my first American comics; issue 33 of the Mirage Studios' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The story was called "Turtles Take Time", written and drawn by Richard Corben. My memories of the shop are vague, although I do remember that it's haphazard layout and heavily shadowed interior were in equal parts threatening and captivating to my young mind. The air was thick with the smell of newsprint. It was around this time that Dark Horse were first establishing themselves, and their groundbreaking comic mini-series' based on the Aliens, Terminator and Predator movie franchises were the best-sellers of the day. Marvel too were pushing a Comics Code friendly Robocop comic. The Punisher had yet to go through his rollercoaster decade from cult popularity to horrific overexposure to deepest obscurity and back again. And of course through the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mirage Studios were showing that independent black and white comics could be some of the best in the world.
Aka soon opened up a second branch, a few blocks away in the Trongate. This was originally an outlet for it's increasing back issue stock, but in the early nineties the original store closed down and operations were moved completely to the Trongate shop. In time, the second shop came under new management, and to this day is trading under the name A1 comics. The popularity of the Virginia Galleries continued unabated through many years to follow.
In 1998, cracks appeared in the top facade of the Galleries. The 40 traders who occupied the complex were evacuated and, deemed unsafe by the building control officers, the arcade remained vacant for the following five years. In 2003 the Virginia Galleries were demolished and in 2005 plans were announced to build a complex of flats and shops on the empty site.
To say the least, it was a very sad ending to a building which had grown to be at the very heart of Glasgow's blooming alternative culture. For several decades, the Virginia Galleries occupied a unique part in the lives of thousands of people, from the most loyal regulars to incidental visitors .
In 2001, when I produced my first small-press comic, I called it the Virginia Gallery.