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Here's a true Tower Records story that isn't in the documentary: Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo worked at the Hollywood store (the famous one on Sunset Blvd.) before they got signed. When the interviews started at the time of the first album's release, he was asked about working there, and he talked about what a nightmare it was. The word came down from Sacramento---pull all the Weezer product from the shelves and return it! Russ Soloman wasn't about to support anyone who bad-mouthed his business.
I knew a guy who had worked at the Hollywood store at the same time as Rivers, and he told me that one of their Tower co-workers took a dislike to Rivers, and being a bullying kind of guy (and physically big, while Rivers is the small, meek type), really gave the poor kid a hard time, tormenting and pushing him around. Who got the last laugh?! A few years earlier, a couple of the guys who wound up in Guns N' Roses were working in the Tower Video store.
When you start at Tower, your eight hour work day is split in two---a four hour register shift, lunch or dinner, then four hours of stocking shelves, maintaining your assigned section, answering the phone, and assisting customers. To some Tower employees, an eight hour workday seemed to take forever, Rivers being one of them.
I haven't seen the doc yet, so don't know if the following is covered in it. But I can tell you when I knew Tower was heading for big trouble, if not complete failure. The chain was always privately owned by Russ Soloman, the company borrowing it's operating capitol every quarter from it's bank, the loan being paid back from the profits from that quarter. This business model worked well the entire time Russ ran Tower. Soon after he retired (turning over the operation of the company to his son), however, Tower defaulted on it's loan, not showing enough profit in one quarter to repay the loan. When it happened a second quarter, then a third, the bank was legally entitled to take over management of the company, which it did.
First, employee hours were cut from 40 hours a week to 35. Then, the completely independent buying ability of each Tower store ended. Partial central buying was instigated, someone in Sacramento, rather than the buyers in each store, deciding which new releases, and how many copies thereof, were sent to each store. Having independent buyers in each store, buying only for the store he or she worked in, is what distinguished Tower from all other record chains.
The bank then, and IMO most importantly, asked for 365 days dating from all independent distributors, up from the industry standard 90 days. Dating is how long a company has to pay it's suppliers for the product sent to it. 365 days dating is a trick to enable Tower to pay for independent product only after it has sold. How so? The price tag on each piece of Tower merchandise included a date code which let the store buyers know when each piece was received. One of a Tower buyer's job duties was to go through the racks and pull all product that had been in the store, unsold, for a given length of time, that length left up to the discretion of the store. Some chose three months, some six. But NO store would keep an unsold piece of product for as long as a year. So, with this new dating demand, Tower would return every piece of independent merchandise before it would have to pay for it. What independent distributor can stay in business if being paid for product it sends to a retailer only after an entire year?! Many of the indi's refused Tower's demands, there product then disappearing from Tower stores. What good is a Tower record store without the product of independent record companies? None!
The Sunset store had a wonderful catalog of great jazz and classical records. It was about an hour trek down the I-5 for me.The Topanga Canyon store was really good too but not as good as Sunset. Amoeba is the same distance and a real trip in more ways than one. Some of the weirdest people haunt the Sunset area and they all seem to collect themselves at the Amoeba store. Now if only they would get a customer restroom! Old guys have needs.
Every week I took at least one trip to the Tower on the upper west side NYC and once there, would usually spend an hour looking and listening. Hard to walk out without buying something. Saw many Broadway performers, tv stars and rock luminaries shopping there among them:
Elton--who, as I recall they closed the store for. Great memories. Now I go to numerous smaller record stores downtown such as Other Music or In Living Stereo. For a big selection it's Rough Trade in Brooklyn but the whole experience is just not the same.
I worked at the London store in Piccadilly Circus early 90s. It was a great time for British music, just a short time before the Britpop explosion of Pulp, Suede, Blur, Oasis, etc.At the time, the scene was still indie, with most bands playing Brixton Academy, Town and Country, etc. I was fortunate to see the Fall, Wedding Present, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, early Blur, Dino Jr., Mary Chain, Nick Cave, etc.I also lived above a pub near Marble Arch, and worked a deal where all my fellow Yankee students would drink there on a regular basis, in exchange for room and board and drinks for me! I gained 50 lbs from shephards pies and Guiness! Lol! However, the Tower there was massive 3 story structure that really didn't feel like an independent store.However, I mainly worked there to meet chics and get promo cassettes! They also had a bunch of old/used equipment in the basement, and I was able to assemble a meager system featuring some early BBC monitors. I mainly dealt with cassettes due to cost, and the manager let me dub anything I wanted. Not sure about the other locations, but only the managers worked full-time/8 hr shifts. Most did it to have access to music, meet people, etc. Some great memories as this was a 24/7 store during my tenure. Although a huge store as I mentioned, the management had a laid back style, with informal staff meetings @ local Pubs.Miss Tower, sausage rolls, and curry!
I liked the local (Austin) Tower store for its selection, its artwork on the building and its "instore" concerts (I took my kids to see/hear the Toeadies there). The store was in a building that housed a theater in earlier days (I saw "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and "Stop Making Sense" in that same room). I miss it.
at various times i lived or worked near the sf, chicago and broadway towers and they really were the epicenter of my existence. as a retailer, i always had my qualms--they were pricey and sorta big-box impersonal--but they had a fantastic selection and the in-stores were great. somehow i think they could have survived if they had been more customer-friendly and adaptable to the changing retail landscape--barnes and noble and best buy, for example, have hung in there by changing their model. in any case, tower's demise has left a big void--looking for musci on amazon or ebay just isn't the same visceral, tactile thrill.
I used to visit the store at Broadway and 66th street during my New York days and the Atlanta stores regularly after that. The video comments about the local buying of indie band records was interesting to me. I sought out the local indie records at Tower. In New York I got turned on to Winter Hours which turned into a favorite. In Atlanta, I was introduced to the Josh Joplin band and Soul Miner's Daughter (now Jennifer Nettles/Sugarland). Like the rest of you, I miss the serendipity of discovering something new that might have been playing when I walked in or talking to the people who worked there about new music. While "similar" artist software on amazon, Pandora, and such is fun, it doesn't replace the enthusiasm of talking to real people. If you want a laugh about music recommendations, check out www.drinkify.org. The Tower doc looks great by the way.
According to IMDB the documentary comes out tomorrow (10/16/2015).
I plan on seeing it, if it is being shown where I live.
It's really cool to read about all the adventures you guys have had at Tower Records.
I grew up in a small town in Wyoming and we didn't have anything like that. Wish we did. Sounds like a fascinating journey!
Oregonpapa---There was no Topanga Canyon store. You're probably thinking of the Sherman Oaks store, located at the corner of Van Nuys and Ventura Boulevards (Ventura Blvd. immortalized in Tom Petty's song "Free Falling"). The reason the Sherman Oaks store was not as good as the Sunset/Hollywood store (absolutely true) was that I had a much smaller buying budget than the two buyers at Sunset. The Tower budget system is too complicated to go into here, but the abbreviated explanation is that how many pieces of product a given store sells a month, and how many total pieces are in stock at the end of every month, determines how many pieces that store can buy the following month. The more pieces the store sells one month, the more it can buy the following one. The Sunset store sold about twice as many pieces a month as did the Sherman Oaks store, so it's buying budget was twice as large as mine. I would have to pass on product that the Sunset store could buy, as I was out of budget for the month. So they could sell those titles which they were able to buy but which I wasn't, leading to more total monthly sales, which in turn lead to a bigger budget for the following month! I had been a customer at the Sherman Oaks store (living not far away), and often would not find the indi titles I was looking to buy, but would find them at the Sunset store. My priority when I started buying for Sherman Oaks was to increase the number of individual titles the store had in stock. It took a while, but little by little the store's number improved, until we were second only to the Sunset store in all of Southern California.
You're also right about Amoeba. Within a year of the opening of their Sunset Blvd. store, the Sunset Tower's monthly sales dropped off by about 50%! Amoeba's priority is having as many titles in stock as possible, for hard-core music lovers and buyers. Tower's management was starting to be a little too concerned with the aesthetics of the stores fixtures, etc. Who cares about that?! When Tower's bank took ever management and instigated central buying, it was just a matter of time until Tower would fail. I was actually surprised it took as long as it did.
I enjoyed shopping at Tower. Who's to blame-the internet, youtube, craigslist? It's hard to say. Unfortunately, I expect to see sentimental documentaries on the demise of Rasputin's and Amoeba sometime in the future. If that bothers you (it bothers me), then drop in to one of the stores and buy something. I have no affiliation with any of these stores but I would like to see them stick around. Just my opinion.
I could swear that Tower had a large store on Topanga Canyon about a mile north of Shelly's Audio store ... same side of the street. Could it be that they had two stores in the Valley? Remember Record Trader? Or how about that funky little record store across the street from the Van Nuys drive in movie theater? Did you ever discover Brigg's Books? It was a bookstore in the Valley that had tons of used records under the book cabinets.Talk about getting down and dirty! I miss those days of sorting through Aaron's across from Van Nuys high school and Rhino Records on the West Side. The local radio DJ's used to dump their unplayed promo copies at Aarons. Man, I cleaned up on Pablo promo jazz albums there for a couple of bucks each. Rhino was great for Japanese pressings of American classic jazz. Yum, yum! Those were the daze!
Oregonpapa---There were three Towers in the Valley---Sherman Oaks, Northridge (destroyed by the '94 earthquake), and Panorama City. There was a Licorice Pizza on Topanga, across the street from the Topanga Mall. Yep, used to go to Record Trader regularly, but didn't know about Brigg's. Rhino was a great store when they had LP's, but not when they switched to all CD's. The same thing happened to a record store up in Marin, Village Music. Great LP store, average CD store. One L.A. store that never abandoned LP's is Record Surplus, on Santa Monica Blvd, still going strong. I've gotten some great deals there.
You are right, there was a Tower on the Southbound side of Topanga Canyon in Canoga Park/Woodland Hills. It was indeed just north of Toys R Us and Sees Candy. I moved here in 2006 and it felt new - I want to say that it hadn't been there very long. I have a feeling that it may have been one of their last stores to open. It's possible that it opened after Bdp left the company.
And my apologies Oregonpapa! It never occurred to me that after having filed Chapter 11, closing under-performing stores, and cutting employee hours, Tower would then open a new store in the Valley. Topanga isn't that far from the Sherman Oaks store, and would only take business away from it, I would think, gaining Tower nothing.
Also, contrary to what you have heard, Oasis did an in store in the early 90s @ Piccadilly, and were great lads! They did a pub crawl with staff, played snooker, and watched footie all night!This is obviously before fame and the absurd level of media coverage on them set in, but they were genuine, real lads who loved to banter and laugh!
Tower on 4th and Broadway was the meat in the sandwich between Stereo Exchange down the street and the Strand book store up the street. Spent more hours there than I can count. Also spent untold $$$. I still occasionally pull out an unopened record from the shelves with a Tower price tag on it, probably among the 100s purchased when Tower phased out LPs. Their Jazz section was beyond compare. I got to know Michael Anderson, who worked the section, and was both a drummer for Sunny Murray and a WBGO DJ. His knowledge of the music, and recordings remains unmatched in my experience. Those were great times in NYC.