Farewell, Tower


From Right on the Left Coast, we have this report of the end of an era: the demise of Tower Records.

In the 1940s, Russ Solomon began selling records from the back of his father’s drugstore in the Tower Theatre building on Broadway. He opened the first Tower store on Watt Avenue in 1960, and really put Tower on the cultural map when his San Francisco store opened in 1968. […]

The legendary music retailer, born in the rear of a Sacramento drugstore but brought to its knees by the Internet and discount chains, was sold Friday to a liquidating firm after a court-supervised bankruptcy auction that spilled over two days.

The liquidator, Great American Group of Woodland Hills, agreed to pay about $134.3 million for Tower’s inventory, money that will go to Tower’s creditors. […]

Where I grew up, in the sticks or rural Tennessee about 50 miles from Nashville, it was a staple of my high school days to hop in the car on Friday nights with my buddies and head into Nashville for some good geek times — hitting up The Great Escape for comic books and old records, maybe the Circuit City on Charlotte Avenue to fondle handle some electronics (remember when Circuit Cities were rare, and interesting? Rather than just irritating?), and always — always — we ended up at  Tower Records.

At the time, the Nashville Tower was located on a postage-stamp-sized lot on West End Avenue, right across the street from Vanderbilt‘s high-rise dorms. It could not have had more than a dozen parking spaces. I remember orbiting the building for as long as an hour — around and around and around… — until a space opened up, and then getting in to the building was like finding oneself on the "admit" list to an exclusive nightclub. At the time, too, it was the only major music store in the city. It was the hangout of sophisticated Vanderbilt students, hip Nashville music wannabes, even the occasional music celebrity. It was heady stuff for a nerd from the country, and it provided me with some of my best high school memories — as well as some of the best music, much of which I still own.

On the other hand, I also remember that it was in Tower Records that I finally realized that they and the record companies were insanely overcharging for CD’s — they cost typically $20 for a new pop or rock release versus $13-$14 at any other retail store. And I remember the sheer, unapologetic snottiness of the staff there, many of whom were the aforementioned hip Nashville music wannabes who felt they’d found a proxy for music fame and hipness by working there, and lorded it over the poor hicks and nerds who shopped there. The combination of those two things — too-expensive merchandise and irritating staff — will inevitably doom a business, iconic or otherwise.

Although in defense of the musical over-hipness of the staff, I clearly remember buying this Beatles compilation at Tower — the first "Beatles album" I ever owned — and when I brought it to the checkout desk, the dude looked at it; looked at me; and said, "I’ll sell you this, but you have to promise that you’ll go out and buy all the Beatles albums ever made after you walk out of here with it." That turned out to be one of the best pieces of advice I ever got.

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One response to “Farewell, Tower

  1. Sounds familiar, though we went to Louisville.