Goodbye, Tower Records

The Tower Records store in my area has closed its doors. It happened on Wednesday night. A friend of mine was there on the last day, and informed me that it was the last day. Today, I walked past it during my Christmas shopping errands, and the once bright and colorful store was in complete darkness.

The writing was on the wall, of course. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2004, but said its stores would remain open. In early October of this year, the announcement was made that Tower Records had been sold to a company that was going to liquidate it. Days later, the going-out-of-business sales began. I remember going in my local Tower in mid-October and stocking up on several CDs at 20% off. The next time I went, I purchased three more CDs at 40% off. The next time, CDs were being sold at 60% off -- but I could no longer find more titles that interested me. My friend told me that everything was being sold at 80% off on the final day, but he was only able to find three CDs and one DVD that vaguely interested him.

It's sad to see Tower Records go under. I can remember, during the late '80's, when the nearest Tower Records to me was halfway across my city. I loved the place, and going there was an event. I used to go there to find CDs and tapes that usually weren't stocked at other major record stores. Then, something wonderful happened. In 1990, a Tower Records store opened less than two miles from my house.

I was in heaven. Whenever I wanted to buy a CD or tape that I couldn't find at Sam Goody or similar places, the place to look was just ten minutes away. Soon, I began to make almost all of my music purchases at Tower, because the prices were usually a few dollars lower than they were at the other places. What's more, there was a Tower Video store at that location as well. I was suddenly able to rent many VHS titles that I wasn't able to rent from my neighborhood video stores (there were no Blockbuster stores in my vicinity until a few years later).

Tower Records/Video actually became a place where I hung out. It was a cool place to be. The employees usually seemed like cool people to be around. It was open until midnight, 365 days a year. It was a unique experience, being able to buy a CD and rent a video after 10 P.M., especially on a day like Easter or Thanksgiving.

There was almost always a good sale going on at Tower that enabled me to stock up on CDs for my collection. I used to look forward to February, when there was usually some type of sale that offered $11.99 titles for $9 or less. (That sale stopped happening somewhere along the line). I used to cheerfully bring stacks of CDs to the register for purchase. Also, every January there was an annual inventory reduction sale in which every CD was on sale for a few dollars off -- including imports.

That was another thing that was great about Tower back then: their selection of import CDs. Being the Rarebird that I am, I was always looking for hard-to-find albums. If I couldn't get them at the used record stores in my area (all of which have long since disappeared), I could sometimes find an import CD at Tower. If I went there often enough (and I went to Tower pretty often in those days), I would eventually find almost any type of import CD in their bins.

Another thing that set Tower apart from other stores, even in its later days, was its way of promoting CDs from lesser-known artists. I can remember one Sunday summer afternoon in 1998, when a local band played a small concert inside the store to promote their CD. Recently, a columnist in my local newspaper bemoaned the fact that Tower was closing, blaming it on a CD-buying public which failed to support a store that promoted obscure artists.

But those of us who understand economics know that the company's problems ran deeper than that. It was competition that killed Tower Records. For me, the picture began to change in 1997, when I first became connected to the internet. Tower's selection didn't seem quite as impressive after I gained access to online music stores which offered nearly every CD in print and shipped them to my door. Imports became easier to obtain than ever.

Tower also faced tough brick-and-mortar competition. Stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart began to sell CDs at lower prices than Tower. I can remember one day a few years back, when I stopped at Best Buy on my way home from work, and saw two CDs which were released that day being offered at very low prices. Tower Records was only a few miles down the road, so I did some comparison shopping. Tower also sale-priced those two newly released CDs, but their prices were a few dollars higher than at Best Buy. What did I do? I got back in my car and drove those few miles back to Best Buy and bought the CDs there. Did I do this to cold-heartedly betray my beloved Tower Records? Of course not. I merely wished to save about five of my hard-earned dollars, just as I did in the days when I bought CDs at Tower instead of Sam Goody. Another thing I remember about that day: Best Buy had plenty of customers in the store. Tower was eerily empty and quiet.

And, of course, the whole mp3 thing probably hurt Tower's sales as well.

As for Tower Video: it was the first video store I knew of that stopped renting VHS tapes. They did this somewhere around the year 2000, before I owned a DVD player. Their VHS selection had dwindled anyway. Their selection of DVD rentals was small, and it wasn't long before they stopped their video rentals altogether, and became only a seller. In any case, the whole Tower Video renting experience now seems like ancient history in the age of Netflix.

I knew the end was near a few years ago, when the store began to close at 10 P.M. instead of midnight. There is really nothing like that old after-ten Tower experience.

Even though I didn't shop at Tower as much in its later days, I was always glad it was still there. But now, alas, it is only a memory. Thank you, Tower Records, for all the great years.

For the time being, Tower Records Online is still in business, but I don't know how much longer it will be. In any case, it's truly the end of an era.