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Requiem for a Record Store

My love affair with Tower Records began in 1985 when my family moved from suburban Connecticut to Manhattan. Tower’s flagship store at Fourth and Broadway was a mecca for musicians, scenesters, bizzers and fans. Yeah, there were all kinds of underground indie shops in Manhattan dedicated to various musical genres and subcultures. But Tower stocked nearly everything, and the prices were quite good.

My love affair with Tower Records began in 1985 when my family moved from suburban Connecticut to Manhattan.

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Tower’s flagship store at Fourth and Broadway was a mecca for musicians, scenesters, bizzers and fans. Yeah, there were all kinds of underground indie shops in Manhattan dedicated to various musical genres and subcultures. But Tower stocked nearly everything, and the prices were quite good.

Hang out at Tower for a while, and you saw that hiphoppers also rocked, and yuppies dug R+B. Tower was truly a big tent, celebrating the diversity of man and the breadth of every woman’s record collection.

Well this week you can buy a piece of the big tent for a song, because the Tower chain is in the last stages of liquidating.

I don’t know the status of my beloved Fourth and Broadway location, but the Tower here in Santa Monica is down to the dregs. Even the fixtures and hand trucks are for sale. (And you can pick up Mariah Carey’s “Glitter” album for less than four bucks… deal, or no deal?)

You gotta give Tower founder Russ Solomon some credit; how many brick and mortar retailers built a successful business around stocking EVERYTHING, including thousands of SKU’s that turned maybe once or twice a year? It was a bold, and some might say naïve business plan, tying up millions of dollars in low-demand inventory just so that the guy who needs a Billy Bragg album can get it, today, on a whim.

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In recent years the “Long Tail” of non-hit titles has moved onto the Internet, available in physical form at Amazon or downloadable at iTunes. Both sites have created clever new ways to browse, such as linking from one artist to another or looking through playlists generated by other shoppers.

Yet alt-culture has lost something in Tower’s demise. Gathering the tribes in the same room created connections both musical and personal. Like, “damn, I never saw a lady wear a hat that big and look good doing it! And what’s that Brand Nubian album she’s holding, I think I better buy one for myself!”

Greg Spotts is Creative Director of the Shortlist Music Prize, and rocks the Digital Media beat for Fast Company.

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