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Demise of Tower Records

Tower Records logo

Failed bankruptcy filings have led to the liquidation of all Tower Record stores. It feels like a death in the family. Their eclectic style, diverse product line and knowledgeable sales reps made them industry leaders.

I discovered Tower Records in NYC's Village in the mid '80s. Their selection was huge and eclectic - unlike anything I'd ever seen. On that first visit I blew a ton of money on bands I'd hear, but could never find the CD in stores. Tower Records wasn't ANY store - it was THE store. Seeing that familiar red & yellow logo always meant spending too much money and stoked on new bands.

It was at the Village Tower Records that I rounded out my collection of Surf Punks CDs. No one else carried stuff like that - no one! Even though I lived nearby, every trip to NYC involved a stop at Tower. Who could resist? Not long after moving to CT a Tower store opened in Stamford. I couldn't believe my luck.

I've lived in many different places, but always made stops at Tower Records. Recently I was on a job interview in southern CT and dropped by Tower (completely unaware of the liquidation) and found a slew of skateboard mags that you just don't find in any other stores. I went home a happy guy and planned a return to visit friends and Tower. Now what? No more Tower. It's the end of an era. It's the end of the world as we know it. Where will we go?

Box Stores

"May the best man win". I'm all for that. Betamax lost to VHS. Laserdisc lost to DVD. The world changes around us and changes us. If a box store like Walmart or Best Buy can save you a buck or two... the average consumer will applaud. Hell, I might too. But is price everything?

No!

What about selection, knowledgeable sales reps and supporting the local community? I want a fair price (who doesn't?), but at the same time I want good service. Good service includes many facets from how a store is managed to the consumer's experience inside the store... among other things. It's not just the out-the-door cost of things. Tower carried CDs by local bands. If it rocked (and would sell) Tower would support it. Not many companies would consider such a thing.

Go to Walmart and check out their selection - or lack of selection. For them, having stock of the top selling CDs is the goal. If I want to listen to that crap, I'll turn on the radio. I want the eclectic, hard-to-find bands - the ones who release music that moves me and motivates me. Best Buy has a rack of "Latest Releases". Ever notice that many of those discs are a year old? It's called paid-placement. Labels pay Best Buy to showcase their artists' CDs. Crappy, eh?

Independent Shops

In the sk8 community you always hear people telling you to support local skate shops. Same reason. They are reactive and responsible to their customers, not some corporate purchasing agent. (Check out Consolidated's war on sports-oriented box stores.) The local shop is the one who will care for you. Their profits rise through building relationships with their customers and knowing what they want. Big business profits are based on volume. If they sell massive amounts, they will make good profits. The problem is big business doesn't care about consumers - just their wallets.

Big business gets volume purchasing discounts that allow them to pass on pricing that is lower than what the local indy shop can afford. This ruins the indy shop and forces us to buy skateboards at Walmart. That sucks! Yes, I know that no matter what happens out there... none of you will ever buy a sk8 at Walmart or any other box store.

Just as Tower Records offered a great selection, superior sales knowledge and good pricing, they are in the same boat as the indy skate shop. Larger businesses are pushing them out of business while offering the consumer far less. People need to rise up against this and stop shopping at box stores.

Box Stores Are Evil

We've looked at some of the detractions of big business and their box stores. Lets look at how they impact local communities. Sure Tower supported local bands, but the loss of Tower to big business goes much deeper than that. Look at it from an economic standpoint.

When a box store sets up shop in your town, here's what happens - or doesn't happen.

Box stores don't sell local goods or services, therefore they have no positive sales effect on any local businesses. Product is shipped in and sold to locals. The money you spend in a box store does not make it back into your local economy. All the box store's profit goes to their headquarters (maybe you should live there if you shop at box stores). The local community gets... are you ready? Can you guess? NOTHING!

Conclusion

Stop shopping at Big Business' box stores. Support the stores that truly care about you as a customer, not as an income source.

Newbury Comics logo

Thoughts from Newbury Comics co-founder, Mike Dreese:
October 2006

I first spoke with Russ Solomon, Tower Record's founder, when I was writing an editorial piece in Boston Rock Magazine in the early 80's. The New York Village Tower had just opened and had set the record world abuzz with it's massive assortment. Outside of London, nobody had ever seen anything like it!

Russ was charming and wise. A true visionary, who took a record rack in the back of his father's store all the way to a global brand. He was listed in Forbes Magazine as one of the richest people in America. He always has a sharp sparkle in his eye, and is a keen listener and observer. Has a completely understated "hippie" type class about him. We KNEW Tower was coming to Boston soon. And they came.

The day Tower opened in Backbay, our sales in Harvard Square dropped 25%. But Newbury Street instantly became THE place to shop for music. So we did okay. Tower brought excitement and media attention to specialty music retailing. They embraced media more than computers. We always respected the Tower folks and had a lot of fun competing against each other. We used to leaflet the hell out of 'em with coupons. They finally put up a sign that said "we accept all competitors coupons". Since their pricing was always a bit higher, they could get away with it.

But then one day we got this great idea to offer $5 off all CLASSICAL CD's. We only had a few bins of them at the time. They had a whole floor! About 3 weeks later we received a shipment from them that was a box full of THOUSANDS of our classical coupons, with a note that said "you win". They took the coupon signs down. When we renovated and expanded the store, they sent us some pizzas. Truly great people at Tower! The lifer's loved the company. And the company tried its best to take care of 'em. Kinda like Newbury....

Tower's 2nd Bankruptcy is a complete disaster for the music retail industry. The ENTIRE chain is liquidating. That's insane! Unfortunately the high bidder at the bankruptcy auction was a liquidation company. So EVERY store is closing. Usually in a bankruptcy, some of the best stores are saved, or at least rolled into a competitor. Apparently not this time. Another company in auctioning off the real estate/leases so it is unlikely anyone will be able to put anything resembling the chain back together again. The toll will be very heavy on their staff, small labels, small distributors, and musicians who could always count on Tower to be open to their records. Tower always had its flaws, but this truly sucks. It's a bad outcome for way too many.


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