Tower Records, RIP

Tower_2 Russ Solomon, 81, began selling records in the 1940s from his father's drug store in the Tower Theatre building on Broadway in Sacramento. In 1960 he opened the first Tower Records, in the  capital city.

The effect was revolutionary, writes Dale Kasler in Sunday's Sacramento Bee:

Until then, music was consigned to the nether reaches of department stores and other retail outlets. "There were no stores devoted to music at the time that Russ Solomon came along," said Sacramento musician Mick Martin, a former Tower employee. "You went to Woolworth's."

Tower wasn't just a music store -- it was a record junkie's heaven, filled with obscurities and rarities. "I heard a lot of things for the first time there, hanging around," Martin said. "On Friday and Saturday nights, the hippest place to be was Tower."

The Bee's obituary for the record chain attributes the cause of death to the twin forces of the big-box discounter and the Internet, which Solomon once dismissed as something "that would never take the place of stores."

Tower Records, which once inspired a Rod McKuen poem and sold books and videos in more than 200 stores worldwide, was itself sold at bankruptcy Friday. It is expected to be liquidated.

Mike at Techdirt wrote:

In the end, as sad as it is for those of us who used to spend plenty of extra time (and money) at various Tower Records' stores, it should be a case study for those who don't understand when the market is shifting around them. While other record stores began to recognize that that they needed to completely revamp their business -- from becoming combination music/dance clubs and stores to starting their own record labels or becoming "destinations" rather than just stores ...

Chris Anderson, the Wired editor and author of "The Long Tail," asks:

Et tu, Blockbuster?

I remember walking into my first Tower Records while in college. It was in San Francisco, and it packed the exotic appeal that Coors beer used to have when it, too, wasn't available on this side of the country. That Tower in North Beach had the biggest selection of music I'd ever seen, going deep into catalogues of Captain Beefheart and Bill Evans and John Mayall and all the other good stuff I was always on the watch for.

But I also remember the clerks were some of the most haughty people this side of Jack Black in High Fidelity, and nothing like the Mr. Natural record-store guy in my town who was about the only person I talked to for a few of those dark early adolescent years. That place, too, is long gone, like my Uncle Manny's book and record store where I remember learning one of the more useful rules of small business management: If you have an employee who smokes a pipe, fire him. He's more interested in keeping the pipe lit than in helping people. How could you go out of business with smarts like that?

Over at A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago, Adam Bonin remembers:

When I was in high school, they had twice-yearly trips for us gifted kids to Lincoln Center to see the opera. One big highlight, though, was that as long as the bus arrived early enough, we got to shop at the Tower Records at Lincoln Center before the performance. Back in the days when the only local record options were the Sam Goodys and The Walls of the world, it was really something special.

No word on what would happen at the Broad Street and South Street locations. An Internet cafe and a Best Buy would be appropriate.

Anthony Preziosi
Posted 10/09/2006 10:23:07 AM

It is the rare retailer that survives generations. W.T. Grant, E.J. Korvette's, J.M. Fields, Franklin Music and Peaches come to mind quickly as those who aren't there anymore. Trends are as hard to spot as they are to predict, and retailers who fail at either do not last. Tower will be missed, but something will come along for the next generation.

Blackmail Is My Life
Posted 10/09/2006 11:01:44 AM

It may be overlooked, or seem unimportant to many of your readers, but whither classical music? There are few stores, either independent or big box that carry these titles in any meaningful capacity, and digital outlets haven't really found good ways to fill this niche [as freemarketers like to call it.]

jan Holmes
Posted 10/09/2006 11:02:59 AM

I live in Seattle now. But wasn't the first Tower on Watt Ave across the street where it turned into Lucky's, Mont. Wards, and now Wal-Bunk? Or was it always next to Sam's. Thanks to whoever can remember this.

David Solomon
Posted 10/09/2006 12:59:15 PM

The first Tower Records was in the back of Tower Drugs on Broadway, Sacramento. In October 1960 Tower Record Mart, which had been in the drug store since 1946, changed its name to Tower Records. A month later, in November 1960, Tower Records opened a store in the bowling alley building accross the parking lot from the Sams building on Watt Ave. The rest is history.

Daniel Rubin
Posted 10/09/2006 01:50:40 PM

David, you THAT Solomon? My family had a little record and book store. My uncle Manny owned it. It was in Back Bay, Boston, called Book Clearing House. I helped pack it up when everything fell apart. Got some very good records out of it, though.

Adam B.
Posted 10/09/2006 07:19:40 PM

It was not *that* long ago that Tower had separate Records, Classical Annex and Books stores within two blocks on South Street. At Throwing Things, we blogged this over here.

Posted 10/09/2006 09:21:24 PM

I fondly remember going to Tower Records in NYC after seeing the Replacements at the Beacon Theater in March 1989. I scoured the racks looking amongst the thousands of CDs for the Replacements catalog. I found "Let It Be" and remember opening it up after I got home real late. For some reason the CD had this really strong perfume smell to it. I just took it out and it still has that odor to it.

Jeff Dowder
Posted 10/10/2006 06:03:28 AM

I've been buying CDs from for a few years now, since my local mom and pop store bit the dust...great prices, always free shipping.

Ed Ward
Posted 10/10/2006 07:23:01 AM

One thing that killed Tower is extremely simple to understand: their prices were just too high. Ask anyone on the wholesale side and they'll tell you that Tower used its size to demand really liberal return and billing policies, yet they managed to still be charging 20 bucks for a CD a couple of weeks ago. They also pulled off a really stupid international expansion some years back, with a gargantuan London store in a city that already had Virgin and EMI megastores, and a Moscow store which must have been all about the publicity. Only the Tokyo stores seem to be making money, and I understand they might continue.

Posted 10/10/2006 10:43:04 AM

I have to agree with Ed, the prices that Tower charges for a CD are absolutely insane, often at least $5 over both brick and mortar and internet competition. The only thing I ever did in a Tower record store was look at albums in the Jazz section to see what was available and then go and try to find the same record somewhere else for a reasonable price. It's almost amazing they survived as long as they did.

Marissa Miller
Posted 10/10/2006 01:07:48 PM

I agreee with Chris. Tower records should have been put out of business since Napster was bought and began charging for downloads.

Posted 10/11/2006 03:49:43 AM

Wow. Very sad. I worked at Tower Records on 4th & B'way in the Village when I was at school. It was an education. 2hp

Jim Dickinson
Posted 01/12/2007 06:06:04 AM

I grew up in Sacramento and bought my first and many more records, 8-tracks, cassettes, posters, concert tix and other items from the late 60s on at Tower Records/Books. My fav store was the Watt Ave store and i dropped a lot of cash there. Sacramento had five Towers at one time. Plus I do remember the Tower of Clothes or something like that. Sure they charged more but they always had good sales and if you hold out long enough you could get what you wanted for near the same price as other cheaper places. They always had the obscure stuff you could not find elsewhere. If they did not have it they could order it and have it in a week or so. I will miss that store a lot. I have lived in the San Diego area for the last 14 plus years and will miss the Rosecrans store across from the Sports arena. Oh well we all must move on sooner or later. Jim

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