Tower Records Going Out of Business

Tower Records

Long-struggling California-based Tower Records announced yesterday they will officially begin liquidation proceedings and wind down their business, closing all 89 remaining stores in 20 states.

According to the Associated Press, the company was sold at auction to Great American Group for $134.3 million. Great American feels the physical assets of the company, including its remaining product and real estate, out-value the brand’s future potential in the marketplace, and will shut the chain. Sadly, Great American’s bid bested the auction’s second-highest bidder, Albany-based record store conglomerate TransWorld Entertainment (owner of FYE, Strawberries, Coconuts, Sam Goody, and other banners) by a mere $500,000. Unlike Great American Group, TransWorld planned to close only some Tower stores, keeping the remainder open and hoping to resuscitate the brand.

Now the storied 46-year-old retailer with stores spread across 20 states will be yet another dinosaur littering the landscape of departed media retailers, following many before them. Tower is a sadder loss than most, because they pioneered the record superstore format in the United States, even if in recent years their stores have declined in popularity, failing to remain competitive with their strongest competition on price or selection. Unlike most electronics superstores or the TransWorld chains that now dominate this market, Tower Records cared about its product and employed staff who knew about music (check out the detailed staff listing of some stores on their website, which includes employees’ names and product specialties). This is the kind of touch necessary to be a good music retailer–selling music isn’t like selling shoes–so it’s a sad loss for the industry.
Strangely, the record superstore format has done quite poorly across the board in the United States even as it is the norm in some foreign countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada. In the U.K., large-format HMV or Virgin stores are common, and Canada’s largest music retailer is HMV, who often operates stores in similar formats as Tower in the United States. HMV pulled out of the United States in 2003 and Virgin still has a relatively limited presence restricted to large cities.

I was a manager at a record store for three years, so I saw the challenges facing this industry first-hand. Increasingly, media products are more easily (or cheaply) found online, via outlets such as Amazon or by downloading through iTunes. This is weeding out all but a) the most loyal of customers, who are collectors attached to the “product” and b) the least sophisticated customers, who may not have the technical know-how or the means to download music or movies. The latter audience has little loyalty, and will often turn to stores such as Target or Best Buy that also sell music and movies, as opposed to specifically seeking out media marts with a larger selection of titles they’ve never even heard of.

That leaves the die-hards–people who buy dozens to hundreds of CDs or DVDs a year–as the remaining audience for these stores. These customers are very sophisticated and expect a wide selection at fair prices, and they only shop in a record store because they choose to, because they have an emotional attachment to the experience itself. Many of these customers religiously buy new releases the day they come out. This audience may not continue to last forever, but it explains why many of the very best stores–such as Newbury Comics in New England, or Amoeba in California–are surviving, even if they are feeling the same pinch as their competitors. These customers do not shop at FYE. There was a time they shopped at Tower Records, but due to the chain’s cost-cutting and inventory-slashing, Tower became less fun to shop than their competitors. The die-hards left, and now another yet one bites the dust.

16 Responses to “Tower Records Going Out of Business”

  1. Their website is still up and they still seem to be offering mail order and downloads.

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  2. I am a recovering music die-hard, and bemoan this loss. Of the major superstores, Tower seemed to be the best and they were always fun to visit. I don’t like buying music at Best Buy or Wal-Mart or any of the chains that remian on the recorded music landscape. They lack the basice understanding thas music stores need not be the cheapest or the trrendiest so long as the deliver the goods and staff with people who know their tunes.

    Rest in peace, Tower Records. You were loved by few, but strongly.

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  3. This truly depresses me. Out of all the music stores out there, Tower was by far my favorite. The selection overall was astounding, and more so I enjoyed finding rarities of my favorite artists from imports and singles. And, what Ill miss the most, is they’re large collection of movie scores and classical music that no other store has yet to accommodate. Moving to California I was blessed to have a Tower Records three blocks from my house (were you’d find me on random Sunday afternoons browsing), as well as Amoeba up in the Height district of San Francisco. I’m scared of what is happening to the industry given the dawn of digital distribution. Don’t get me wrong, I embrace it as much as the next person given the convenience to download singles, yet I’m a die hard when it comes to having the physical disc to determine my quality of digital storage, and to “hold” something. Walking in to Tower Records reminded me much of the film Empire Records, where you really felt the record store vibe. Can’t capture that in a Border, Barns & Nobles, or Best Buy.

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  4. Awww! I hate to say it, but I contributed to the decline. I download most everything these days or get it from eBay. I used to love making a run to Tower in the 90s and getting a new CD each week. It was a highlight. I’m sad to see it go.
    Scott

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  5. Another loss! I have such fond memories of spending Saturday nights after dinner with my friends browsing through Tower on Columbus & Bay. I woke up on more than a few Sundays with a hangover and looking at the stack of newly purchased LP’s thinking “I bought THAT?’

    Now I live in NYC, just around the corner from Tower on Broadway & 66th and I drop in there several times a week just to see what’s new in Broadway or DVDs. I’m way too old to care about what you kids listen to, but there was always something interesting to look at there for us old guys.

    Both my bf and my neighbor are bemoaning the fact that there’s nowhere else in the neighborhood to rent porn. Hmmmm. Sad to say I never thought of that. I’d rather curl up with A good Judy Garland musical than a good(?) Jeff Stryker movie (boy, I AM getting old)

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  6. I visited the Market Street Tower a couple of months ago when I was on vacation – at that time I just had the feeling that it would be gone soon. Tower were THE great superstores – I remember having an amazing discussion about Brazillian music with an employee in the NYC store – those days will be gone for sure. IMO, the only other store that was in that league was the long defunct Peaches chain, where I worked for several years. James’ fears are well founded – the music industry is virtually gone, and it won’t be back in a physical form. At least there’s still Amoeba….
    Maybe life is best balanced with both Judy and Jeff, with a little Radiohead thrown in every once in a while ;-)

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  7. Ah yes, Tower Video… the only place with windows you can buy porn and not feel self-conscious. There are Netflix-like places for porn now. I guess all those things cut into Tower’s sales.
    Scott

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  8. I was in my local “Tower” store a couple months back for the first time in years. This particular store was once called “WOW” it was a prototype store that featured Tower Records on one side and Good Guys electronics on the other. This store opened in the mid 90’s and was a very popular place for several years then Good Guys closed last year and the Tower side of the store remained open with only an 8ft ply-wood partition seperating the once lively Good Guys and the Tower side of the store. On my recent visit I even mentioned to the friend I was with that they were not going to be able to make it. The store had no energy. There was no music playing and inventory was low. The only thing still in place were the knowledgable employees.

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  9. Same here..I dread the prospect of shopping for my music in such sterile, bland places such as BestBuy, FYE or walmart. I really enjoyed the “Tower Experience” here in the Dc area, the selection and the employees who knew and loved music. I also enjoyed the wide magazine selection as well, which IMO rivaled that of Borders and Barnes and Noble. It’s like losing a friend, really :(

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  10. I think I remember the last Tower Records I saw was in Vicksburg, MS, near a Shoney’s and a stand-alone Baskin Robbins with a playground.

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  11. I’m so very late to post my comments on Tower folding up last year, but it still saddens me greatly that they did go out of business, even though it was less than a year ago(it always feels like to me that its been more than a year since they went out of business, though I know it was less than a year ago).

    The only store that came close to Tower Records was Virgin Megastore, but sadly, they don’t have many locations left in this country(the Chicago location, the one I always went to, closed after Sat., July 14). It’s too bad now that the closest Virgin Megastore locations to Chicago, IIRC, are all the way in Dallas or Denver(places I don’t normally travel towards, never mind that I’ve only been to Denver once in my life, and never’ve been to Dallas).

    And I totally second gil’s comment about other chains, i.e. Best Buy, Borders, FYE, etc. providing blander music shopping experiences, than Tower or Virgin ever provided. Though I’ll give Borders one thing: I do love how you can always sample 99% of all albums ever released there, and that I just can easily find it at another indie or used music store for cheaper, and/or pick it up at Best Buy.

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  12. I think Virgin is in some cities like in New York or Orlando. Is Tower Records still around as web-only, or have they gone completely kaput?

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  13. They’re interestingly enough, still around, but only as a web-exclusive retailer now(a la other retailers which’ve reverted to online-only, instead of operating stores, such as Montgomery Ward and Service Merchandise).

    I know at about the same time as when the Chicago location of Virgin Megastore closed, they also were in the process of closing another location of Virgin somewhere else in the states(believe it was the Salt Lake City location that closed).

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  14. Well, it seems Tower Records have gone under the way the other stores were: the whole business dies, but someone buys back the name and domain. Examples? Montgomery Ward. Service Merchandise. The Wiz.

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  15. I think it totally SUCKS that all the cool record shops from the past are going away. Some of my favorites were:

    Penguin Feathers Virginia/Washington DC Area
    Raccoon Records Lafayette, Louisiana
    Tower Records French Quarter/New Orleans
    Record Bar Was in most major malls, better than Musicland
    New Generation Baton Rouge & Lafayette, Louisiana
    Audio Hideout Opelousas, Louisiana
    Play It Again Sam Houston, Texas
    Unfortunately all the above stores are only memories now!!!!

    All these shitty stores like Wally World, Best Buy, Circuit City are basically stealing everything great from the past. And for that reason, I avoid these stores like the plague!!!!!

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  16. Allan: What happened with Ward is that a catalog retailer acquired a bunch of the old Montgomery Ward intellectual property and revived it. Service Merchandise was resurrected by its former chairman, interestingly enough. Both are using logos from older periods instead of the ones used right before they went bankrupt.

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