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Tower Records: Seeing the Music

This was inevitable: Tower Records, for many music lovers the place where passions were born and raised, is going down the tubes--bankrupted by the digital revolution.

In just 15 years, the number of chain record stores in the country has plummeted from 9,000 to 2,500, and there's no end in sight. Sure, it's easier and faster to download music, and you don't even have to put on pants to do it.

But for more than 70 years, the physical act of going to the record store to discover and buy music has not only supported the recorded music industry, but has provided millions of Americans with entree to roads untraveled. This is a loss we won't really feel until it's way too late. I love music blogs, suggestion engines on amazon and other music sites, and other newfangled ways to spread the word about new sounds. But none of them come close to the experience of finding a record store clerk who is deeply schooled in a world of music that I've never heard before.

I grew up in New York City spending many Sunday nights at the Tower Records outlet in the East Village. This sprawling store had all the charm of a discount supermarket--it was essentially an enormous barn full of obscure classical and jazz records dumped into bins in no particular order. But the place was full of staffers and customers who not only knew what treasures were hidden in those bins, but felt it was their mission in life to win total strangers over to the soaring possibilities that awaited listeners. It was at Tower that I, like so many other teenagers, escaped the confines of radio-driven pop fare and wandered into alleys of delicious aural obscurity.

I still run into music evengelists like those clerks and customers, but only in random reporting visits to people's houses--I was at the home of a Montgomery County political candidate this week and got into a good talk about his cool collection of CDs and vinyl. But the loss of a place to go where you can reliably find new sounds is sad. Music blogs are coming up with ever more creative ways to replace the record store clerk--Mack Collier's 100 CDs for 100 Bloggers idea is an encouraging sign that music blogs may yet prove to be supportive of the recording artists --but to benefit from music blogs, you have to have some notion of what you're looking for. You have to know that a musical genre exists and might be of interest before you are likely to search for that particular kind of sound.

Whereas at Tower, all you had to do was walk in the door and through the magic of serendipity, you might stumble upon a clerk who simply had to put the latest Glenn Gould recording on the PA system, and so a kid who had never before known that you could do something entirely new with Bach suddenly discovered a sound that might change his life.

For all its splendors, the web has yet to overcome that basic advantage that the physical world has, whether in print or in a bricks and mortar store--the power of chance, of your eye wandering on the page to an article on a topic you didn't know you were interested in, of your ears luring you into a record store to hear sounds you would never know to seek out on the open web.

I will miss Tower, but to be totally honest, I should add that I haven't set foot in a Tower store--or any record store--in more than a year. The machine I'm typing on right now is simply too easy, too instantaneous, and the effort it takes to get down to Foggy Bottom and go to Tower hardly ever seems worthwhile, even though I know somewhere inside that it would pay off.

That's why Tower is dying, and that, in some way we can't entirely see today, is a bad thing.

Tell me why I'm wrong....

By Marc Fisher |  August 24, 2006; 7:47 AM ET
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Comments

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My Tower Records store is the one on Rockville Pike. I spend more time in the back room where the classical and world music is located than in the front part. There's nothing like actually picking up a cd and reading the play list. Sure, you can read the list on the web, but it's just not the same. I guess I'll GO TO A STORE and buy a new turntable for my albums......

Posted by: WB | August 24, 2006 8:50 AM

I go to Tower 3 or 4 times a year (either in Foggy Bottom or in Rockville) when I want to discover things. I just dropped $100 at the Rockville Tower, so the bankruptcy is not my fault. Mostly, though, I have already picked out what CDs I want, and I will use the Internet to acquire them. It's a pain to trek to the store only to find that the product you want is unavailable, and the Internet erases this pain in exchange for a delay.

Back in the day, of course (and by that I mean 1996), Tower was the only place to do your treasure-hunting, nnd I went about once a week to bask in the glory of its mammoth selection, and not coincidentally to buy things. Maybe I am to blame for Tower's demise after all.

Posted by: Lindemann | August 24, 2006 9:07 AM

Maybe I missed the magic, but every time I have gone to Tower Records at GW, I've been put off by the hipster indie "I'm cooler than you" staff there. So yeah, I shop elsewhere. I don't need the staff to validate my existence (or my choice in music), so I won't miss them much.

Posted by: ML | August 24, 2006 9:44 AM

In the '90s, I was an anti-Tower snob because I thought they were too corporate. Sure they had a great selection, but the clerks were often too busy or distracted to be of any use, and I didn't like the store's generic, Top 40 atmosphere. I almost always spent my money at independent music stores where I felt more at home. My time at Tower was spent reading the magazines (rarely buying any) and browsing the CD racks out of curiosity. My few CD purchases were usually deeply discounted or difficult to find elsewhere in the pre-Internet era.

So I guess I was part of the problem. But I never felt a true affinity for the store. Maybe Tower stores were different in the vinyl era, before they became just another corporate chain.

Posted by: SSMD | August 24, 2006 9:50 AM

The digital revolution may have been the final nail in Tower's coffin, but Walmart pulled the trigger. Tower wouldn't (or probably couldn't) compete price-wise with Walmart so they lost a lot of foot traffic. If you want to point fingers, point fingers at the execs who couldn't find a way to compete.

Posted by: ChrisZ | August 24, 2006 9:56 AM

Even if i were going to buy a CD, I would go to Best Buy - not to Tower, or any other record store for that matter.

Posted by: danny | August 24, 2006 10:01 AM

Sure, the digital age has helped kill the "record" stores, but prices haven't helped either. Not totally the fault of the stores, but when it costs so little to actually produce a CD and they charge so much, no thanks.

Posted by: Adams Morgan | August 24, 2006 10:06 AM

The loss of Tower Records is sad but the loss of Pluto as a planet is tragic. Its the only planet I could always remember (think Mickey and Minnie and Donald Duck and you can always remember Pluto). Was my whole public school education a failure? Was I misled on other subjects as well? Which of the local politicians support adding Pluto back to the list of planets? They'll have my vote.

Posted by: Pluto Tragic!! | August 24, 2006 10:11 AM

I was just in the GW Tower on Monday morning. I stopped in after a doctor appt. You could almost see the tumbleweeds blowing in the aisles. Maybe it was so quiet because it's August in DC. Is is busier on Friday night when the students are back? I bought three DVDs so at least I have made a recent, personal contribution to Tower's bottom line. I used to buy first cassettes and then CDs there. Now I buy (including downloads) music online, period.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 24, 2006 10:14 AM

I'll miss the GW Tower, but only because it's a good way to kill time while I wait for my SO to get out of class. There's never a clerk in sight when I want to buy something, let alone know what's playing. And while I admit I'm no expert, I've never spotted anything in the bargain bins that didn't look like it deserved to be there. Maybe if Tower still were the place Marc remembers, it wouldn't be in trouble.

Posted by: fs | August 24, 2006 10:14 AM

Eh. I've only been to the Tower on Rockville Pike a few times, way back in the early 90s. The clerks were so unhelpful and rude that I never went back.

Posted by: tallbear | August 24, 2006 10:20 AM

Marc,

You're right about the "magic of serendipity", although I tend to think of it in terms of going to a bookstore or the library. I'll never forget picking up the Lord of the Rings at the old central Enoch Pratt, and deciding to read it because of the cool map in the back.

But, really, the web is *made* for serendipity! One link, The Hype Machine:

http://hype.non-standard.net/

Posted by: hyping the hype machine | August 24, 2006 10:26 AM

Man, Tower Records is closing and Pluto is no longer a planet. What's next? Tai Shan isn't really a panda? To hell with innovation! I'm going to dig out my old copies of Life magazine and thumb through them.

Posted by: WB | August 24, 2006 10:27 AM

The store Marc describes on the Lower East Side is a lil' different from normal Towers. I've dropped hundreds of dollars there on $7 CDs with no regrets.

For classical and jazz fans, Tower is the only place you can do any kind of serious non-virtual shopping now. I can't go to Best Buy and pick up Paul Hillier's Arvo Part CD. All big-box CD stores have pathetic classical and jazz sections. Olssons generally has well-selected but small sections; they're good for browsing and getting ideas but not for looking for one specific thing you want. At Tower, often enough, you can get what you want and get ideas about things you didn't know you wanted.

Tower (like Olssons) also has non-timed listening stations, which are an unparalleled boon for the classical and jazz customer. There is no way you can tell how good a performance of a 50-minute symphony is from a 30-second snippet from each movement, such as those offered at most Borders. It would be like interviewing me and making generalizations about the musical tastes of 27-year-olds. The sample size is too small and (often) too poorly chosen.

Posted by: Lindemann | August 24, 2006 10:30 AM

Isn't Tower Records a lot like brick and mortar video stores? You can browse and look at jacket covers to see if something might interest you and then rent/buy on a whim. But most sales or video rentals are for new releases, not catalog stuff. What makes a great record store or video rental store is the extensive selection of non-mainstream stuff. But if most sales are for new releases an eclectic collection is just a lot of cost to maintain for very few sales. I think this is why brick and mortar stores are probably in trouble for the near future. You can get catalog stuff from the internet which has much lower storage costs.

Plus let's not forget that you can steal your content from peer to peer networks so long as you don't worry about the very slight chance that you might get sued by the industry. It's hard to believe the argument that file sharing generates more album or dvd sales. This bodes poorly for sales of new release music and dvd's at the Best Buys and Targets.

Posted by: HH | August 24, 2006 10:38 AM

The rise of digital music played a big role in Tower's fall, but I think there was more to it than that. The best CD store I've been in lately was in the suburbs of San Diego. One of a kind, owned and operated by a musical fanatic, packed with CDs and crowded with browsing customers. It's the love of music that keeps a store like that going-- and that's what Tower lacks.

Posted by: Matt | August 24, 2006 10:42 AM

I worked at the GW Tower in the 80s, when it was the only one in the entire DC metro area. Given the size, selection, and popularity of the store in those days, I always felt that having a half-dozen or dozen stores in the metro area was not sustainable - I don't think any metro market could have supported that. Adding books and electronics was pretty stupid too, since any decent market would be rife with far superior outlets for both.

Tower's bankruptcy has nothing to do with CD prices, which have been virtually flat - in current dollars, no less - for almost 20 years. And digital downloads, any real music lover will tell you, are not a replacement for records and CDs, especially since the selection is still so pathetic, and no hard drive invented will last nearly as long as a well-kept CD or vinyl.

Piracy (which personally disgusts me) has played a much bigger role in the bricks-and-mortar demise, since the easily-rippable CD became the exclusive retail format (at least in the US).

Fortunately for the TR brand, Tower has set itself up for an easy transition to e-commerce, which for years has been a big part of its bricks-and-mortar experience in the form of listening stations. It is already, easily, the best online resource for retail CDs, and something like 95% of its products can be previewed online. At the same time, I'll agree with other posters that customer service in the chain is extinct.

Browsing is still a fun experience and a great way to kill time, but another poster here hit it right on the head: you do it alone most of the time, and it does have the vibe of being in an antique store....

Posted by: TR Alumnus | August 24, 2006 10:42 AM

Long live Olssons! I hope.

Posted by: Jules | August 24, 2006 10:44 AM

I used to love to go down to the GW Tower late at night when everybody else in the house was asleep. Parking was easy and the classical section was great browsing. The clerks would play about anything you asked for. The problem was getting out before the plastic was maxed, so I always set a four disk limit (double cd sets count as one).

Posted by: kurosawaguy | August 24, 2006 10:48 AM

I'm an old geezer (52), and grew up in the days when having an awesome stereo system was a crucial component of one's life, along with having high quality recordings. For reasons which seem inexplicable to me, quality has gone by the wayside. Downloads on standard computers just simply do not have the same aural standards as a purchased CD. Its the same reason why listening to songs recorded on an I-Pod makes no sense to me; the sound quality is no better than th esound quality when I was making customized cassette tapes of favorite music - which never sounded nearly as good as the original recording. That is why dinosaurs like me appreciated places like Tower - we could let our imaginations run wild, and get a quality product. Just last month, I got the great The Sidewinder by Lee Morgan ($7.99 in the special bin); Amadou & Miriam's Dimance A Bamako - very well done African pop; Johynny Cash's American V, Dwight Yoakum's great acoustic set dwightyaokumacoustic.net (also heavily discounted) and William Parker's Violin Trio. Guess which 4 out of those 5 were unavailable at the Best Buy across the street from my house?

Posted by: T-Town | August 24, 2006 10:51 AM

I've gotten some fantastic CDs at the GW Tower, after hearing them on the listening station. Sorry to hear things aren't going well, because listening to those little snippets at Borders isn't any use at all. It's not just the length of the clips - being able to listen to anything at all, as you can at Borders, means you don't get the real benefit of a listening station, checking out someone else's taste.

Posted by: h3 | August 24, 2006 10:52 AM

Tower for me became not much more than a normal chain store back when they liquidated their vinyl stock back in the early 90's. Their stock also became not as interesting and the clerks less knowledgable. I am not sure if something had happened within the Tower Corporation, but it felt like The soul of the individual stores was gone.

A chain will never survive now. The only way a record store can flourish is to be focused (on a genre or a medium, i.e. vinyl only) friendly and knowledgable (i.e., not staffed with tattooed 23 year old snots who don't know a damn thing.) It needs to cater to people who actually still like the physical act of buying, talking about and being surrounded by music. Tower was just another bland "super-store" by the end. Good riddance.

Posted by: brandonesque | August 24, 2006 10:53 AM

A clerk "deeply schooled in the world of music?" Holy cow, what store were you in?
I have never experienced anything so dramatic in a music store, and the only sales people I find are the ones who, after you ask for a particular album, go to the section you were just in just to tell you it's not there (thanks, I figured that out on my own).
The selection at Tower, like other name brand stores, is sparse (yes, I get that there are a million jazz CDs, but you know what? I'm not looking for that; I'm looking for stuff most stores haven't heard of, or if they have, they have the two popular albums out of 30, and I already have those).
And let's not start blaming the internet for downloads; I will definitely buy actual CDs of people I really like, but either from Best Buy or Amazon, or even Record and Tape Traders (which does have CDs, despite the name). But, it doesn't cost a small fortune that way (and I don't buy from Wal-Mart on principal; I don't need music censored for me).
There are many reasons why I haven't actually walked into a 'name' music store in at least 10 years (I'm 28 now), and it isn't because I'm lazy and got music, free or not, online.

Posted by: See ya! | August 24, 2006 10:55 AM

Blame it on Technology Marc. The same thing happen with good communication between people. Everyone has a cell phone or blackberry, so people don't speak anymore. So do you think Technology has hurt us or helped us????

Posted by: hogboss | August 24, 2006 11:05 AM


For T-Town: music isn't really "recorded" on an i-Pod, the way a homemade cassette is; it's just a transfer of electronic files that happen to be music (though perhaps this is what you were getting at). People don't have i-Pods because they think it's better quality per se(I certainly don't, and I agree that actual Cds or records have a better sound); people have i-Pods because it's that "homemade tape" times a thousand, or whatever, and that music is carried much more conveniently anywhere you are. It's a very useful tool, and you don't need a tapedeck or CD player in your car or on your stereo to listen to everything you have.

Posted by: Just a heads up | August 24, 2006 11:08 AM

Re: "Long live Olssons! I hope." -- Olssons isn't what it used to be either. If we lose Tower locally that might be good for Olssons in the short term, but I wonder how viable they really are.

Posted by: Cosmo | August 24, 2006 11:09 AM

Oh yeah, Willes still has a good section for vinyl. But I only know of the one in Temple Hills, MD.

Posted by: hogboss | August 24, 2006 11:10 AM

Tower's demise is sad. Let's hope that some bricks and mortar version of an arkivrecords.com will emerge. I used to love going to the classical Harmony House - nothing but a lot of classical cds and a staff that actually knew something about them.

Posted by: adr | August 24, 2006 11:11 AM

The fact of the matter is that Tower has a great selection, far surpassing Best Buy, Target and even (said in hushed tones) Olsson's.

Their prices, while higher than, say, Wal-Mart are competitive with the other stores mentioned. I've never been disappointed by not being able to find what I'm looking for. And best of all, they have a huge selection of CDs for around 9.99.

I love going there and being able to browse music without the constant din of noise from projection TVs and idiots trying to buy a digital camera that you get at the chain stores.

I have an iPod and occasionally download digitally, but nothing compares with spending some quality time searching Tower's stacks. A truly sad end to an era...

Posted by: T-Records | August 24, 2006 11:17 AM

There's a internet radio site called pandora.com that's pretty interesting.

You set up radio stations based on bands that you like. It plays songs that it has classified as similar (through the Music Genome Project).

You can give thumbs up or down for each song played so it'll continue to refine its playlist.

You can set up different stations with different stuff. I've got one for pop stuff and one for jazz right now.

Posted by: Try Pandora | August 24, 2006 11:23 AM

Tower never thrilled me. Guess that I didn't ever feel the affinity for a large operation that I did with Tenley Music (gone this 1/4 century or more.

I was seriously bummed out when Olsson's in Bethesda closed, hoping agains hope that they would reopen. You are right, browsing in the bins with an available, knowledgable clerk was worth more than the extra few bucks.

Afraid that Amazon now gets my buck +.

Posted by: Catcher50 | August 24, 2006 11:49 AM

Gosh, Marc's blog post and every single comment so far (unless someone is posting as I write this) mentions only the music at Tower. I've bought my share of it there, but mostly, Tower has always been a destination VIDEO store for me, particularly in the 1990s, when I was one of the select few who owned a laserdisc player (go ahead, laugh; I have no regrets).

Tower catered to us. The pricing was decent, the selection pretty good. The chain has carried a decent DVD selection for years now. I remember hearing, back when the chain first filed for bankruptcy protection, that DVDs were driving most of its sales.

I still go there once a week (Tysons chain), to pick up a City Paper and see what's new. But Borders has become a better bet if I actually want to hear an album before buying it. Tower limits you to a few selections last time I checked; Borders has most of its selections banked in a computer system that allows you to sample recordings before buying them.

Posted by: Discman | August 24, 2006 11:55 AM

I remember when tower used to let me return opened mechandise when other stores didn't. Thats the one thing that made me ride all the way to tower.

Posted by: hogboss | August 24, 2006 11:57 AM

I grew up in Sacramento in the 50s, and remember often walking the many, almost effortless, miles to the magic kingdom of music at Watt and El Camino. Listening to the 45s of Elvis, Ricky, Don and Phil, the Shirelles, Freddy Cannon et al in their listening rooms. I've rarely bought music anywhere else, and have been loyal to the end. I know all the reasons why we got suckered into cassettes, then CDs. But when you once removed the physicality of records, especially LPs, with their wonderful, often highly aesthetic, and visible (without a mag lens) cover art, Tower and all but megachains or niche shops were doomed.

Posted by: jp | August 24, 2006 11:58 AM

Pandora doesn't work for classical, BTW.

I would never in a million billion years be able to find more than 5 percent of the CDs I buy at Wal-Mart (if I lived near a Wal-Mart, which I don't). Not that I hate Wal-Mart in general, but for this application and for me it's next to useless.

Posted by: Lindemann | August 24, 2006 12:01 PM

Tower has always been great to browse -- especially for jazz records. They have all the big record guides right there for you to check possible purchases. The prices on jazz CDs are pretty good too.

But it's just impossible to beat shopping for jazz CDs on Amazon. The prices are great, there are knowledgeable reviews from other customers, and allmusic.com is a click away.

So, I hope Tower stays around, but if not I can't say it will change how I buy music.

Posted by: Loudoun Voter | August 24, 2006 12:16 PM

Who has time any more to shop and listen? In the past, I enjoyed shopping for classical music at Tower, in the store in Westwood, when I was at UCLA, and, when I moved out here, at the GW store.

I rarely by CD's anymore. I don't have the time to listen to the ones I've bought, other than in the car - and, for classical, I don't think that works. Ever try to enjoy a Bach piano piece while dodging traffic on I-66?

So, I listen to internet radio in the background at home - with a wireless device hooked to my stereo so the sound is ok. But that's about it. Sad for me - and sadder for stores like Tower.

Posted by: Annandale | August 24, 2006 12:19 PM

Damn the Man! Save the Empire!!!

(oh wait...Tower used to charge $3-$5 more for a CD)

Posted by: Fitz | August 24, 2006 12:50 PM

"But Borders has become a better bet if I actually want to hear an album before buying it. Tower limits you to a few selections last time I checked"

Must have been a while ago - you can now listen to any CD in the store by scanning the barcode.

Posted by: TR Alumnus | August 24, 2006 12:56 PM

You're missing it folks, think business...they (tower) missed the opportunity of expanding their business. They should have started selling iPods, MP3 players, portable DVD players etc...hell even TV's...then they would have been up to par with lets say a place like Best Buy.

They could have created a section where for a small fee a person can dowload music or download a CD. While sipping on your Starbucks coffee who would be invested in Towers new idea. (Get my point?)

In other words move with the time don't let time move you out.

I too didn't spend much money there either.

Sorry Towers, you missed it..."it" is called opportunity.

Posted by: Frankey | August 24, 2006 1:51 PM

This is really sad. The Tower on Rockville Pike is one of the few stores in the area where you can pick up actual music and not just the top 40 crap that they peddle at Wal-Mart and Target. Sure, people get their music from the internet, but there's more to life than seeing how quickly you can download hordes of music. There is something special about holding a CD, with it's artistry and the effort put into the whole package. That's a connection to the musician(s) that kids really miss out on these days.

I used to work at Kemp Mill back when they were still around, and Tower is the only store that surpassed the collection that we had. If I don't buy CDs directly from the label (RevHQ, etc.), Tower is sometimes the only place I can find what I'm looking for. They towed a very good line between having a ton of mostly bad CDs (CDepot) and having a small collection of very good ones (Revolution Records in Van Ness).

One final thought: Music store employees are not real estate agents. If they're snotty it's because they are young, underpaid and are more interested in other things. Yes, these are not model employees for the Real World; but only a fool goes to a music store for the conversation.

Posted by: Dakota Pants | August 24, 2006 1:56 PM

i used to visit tower records near gw a couple of times a week, especially after most of the smaller record stores in dc disappeared. it was the only one left with a satisfyingly huge section of jazz and a staff that knew what they had, what was coming soon, the sidemen, etc. but, their costs continued to be high while other large retailers (although with decidedly fewer choices) became much cheaper, and, worst of all, the staff became less knowledgable and less friendly and even the collection of obscure jazz sides suffered as a result. i already miss the "old" tower of the late eighties and early nineties when i was a true regular. i won't miss the store as it stands today at all.

Posted by: wpost36 | August 24, 2006 2:22 PM

Thanks, Marc! I just got back from the Tower Records on Rockville Pike where I shelled out sixty dollars and some odd cents on cds. Actually, they have a sell right now. Buy four cds and/or dvds and get the fifth one free. And how was the service? I asked a young man what section I would find Denyce Graves. I received an accurate and polite answer from him. TR's world music section can't be beat.

Posted by: WB | August 24, 2006 2:36 PM

Tower's national management finally surrendered its ability to tout interesting new music forms and ideas when it folded its in-house "PULSE" Magazine. Now, the store is represented on the front line by people who are not generally musical adventurers. Oh they like their own specific genre well enough, but have obvious contempt for those who buy anything outside their little narrow musical fascination. They're not musical explorers, they're repetitive tour guides who seldom put anything outside their comfort zone on the house system. In the case of the Tyson's store, oftentimes the staff expects shoppers to browse in silence, if you can even imagine this. I have been in that store multiple times when this has happened -- twice I asked if they were going to put on some music. "This is a MUSIC store, isn't it?," I would ask them. That's negligence, in my view. I might as well shop for CDs at TJ Maxx.

Posted by: Pulse Mag | August 24, 2006 3:34 PM

Marc thanks for the mention of '100 CDs For 100 Bloggers'. Since I first posted the idea on my blog, several labels have contacted me to discuss how it could be implemented with their artists, so this is definitely a promotion that's seriously being considered by the music labels. Thanks again!

Posted by: Mack Collier | August 24, 2006 3:45 PM

Stores that offer great service can get away with charging higher prices. Stores that have great prices can get away with lousy service. Stores that have obscene prices (who pays $$18 -20 for a CD they can get for $12) and lousy service (yes, yes, you work at Tower and have a badge with your name written in sparkles, we are very impressed) file for bankruptcy. Good riddance.

Posted by: SoFlo DC | August 24, 2006 3:58 PM

You're missing it folks, think business...they (tower) missed the opportunity of expanding their business. They should have started selling iPods, MP3 players, portable DVD players etc...hell even TV's...then they would have been up to par with lets say a place like Best Buy.

They could have created a section where for a small fee a person can dowload music or download a CD. While sipping on your Starbucks coffee who would be invested in Towers new idea. (Get my point?)

In other words move with the time don't let time move you out.

I too didn't spend much money there either.

Sorry Towers, you missed it..."it" is called opportunity.

Posted by: Repeat | August 24, 2006 4:20 PM

To this day I still go to he Tower located on rockville pike, I make sure I have several hour to devote to just listening to whatever is playing in the various music stations. I listen to everything, rock, jazz, hip-hop etc and have found and bought many treasures. Hopefully they can keep the website up and running, if they can provide samples to everything instead of just the top sellers we may still be able to find those hidden treasures!

Posted by: Quentin | August 24, 2006 4:32 PM

You know where I will shop, and I'll drive all the way to Baltimore to shop there? Sound Garden. Incredible selection of music, new and used cds, and a friendly staff that manages to be "cool" and still be nice to their customers. I can't ever leave there without dropping at least $100 - and that's after trading in some oldies. My impulse buys there wreck my budget, but they make me happy. They had Charles Bukowski's "Hostage" recording in stock - I haven't seen that in years!

So boo hoo hoo Tower, I'm going to Sound Garden.

Posted by: ML | August 24, 2006 4:40 PM

I loathe Tower's high prices and poor selection. I will never digitally download music. I buy actual physical Metal cassettes, Metal records, and Metal compact discs through specialty music distros on online for 2/3 the cost or less than if Tower even actually had them on their shelves. Heavy Metalers are generally purists when it comes to collecting the actual albums and digital downloading will have very little effect on our buying habits. Heavy Metal forever!

Posted by: Vaughn | August 24, 2006 4:45 PM

Mark, you're wrong, a little. I think the reason Tower is going out is because their cds are 16.99 or more. Maybe you can get one for $12.99 but it cannot beat the ipod's 9.99.

True, you don't get a physical disc and the CD book, but I can burn a CD and copy the booklet from the ipod.

Tower music, from my understanding, didn't seem to have a USED section. It just sold records, and at high prices, too.

And in my opinion, that's why they folded. You gotta keep up with the times and I don't think Tower did.

Posted by: Dan | August 24, 2006 4:54 PM

Maybe everyone should go to Crooked Beats in Adams Morgan. Not that they have everything, but its a true old style music store with true old style music folks running it. Some of you might even have to buy a vinyl LP as they don't have a billion useless CD's!

From what I hear, they do pretty well for themselves. Perfect.

Posted by: Brandon | August 24, 2006 5:11 PM

My favorite store for the past 10 years has been the CD Cellar in Falls Church. Used, but the clerks are knowledgable, there's usually something good playing, and you can listen to anything before you buy it. Plus the slightly scratched discs are a real bargain. Haven't been to Tower in at least 5 years.

Posted by: Hemisphire | August 24, 2006 5:45 PM

I'm surprised they lasted this long. No sane person can expect everyone to keep paying $15-$20 for music that can be easily downloaded for free, or bought at a discount from other retail and online stores. Popular CD sales will continue dwindling unless they are drastically discounted and include added value like a free video DVD. Serious jazz and classical fans still need the full sound quality that a CD offers, but the inconvenience of travelling to a store that may not have what you're looking for is a major deterrent. Retailers could capitalize on this online by letting jazz and classical fans download more complete songs and longer samples as downloadable mp3's, then let you order the CD online or pay to download the full album in a lossless or uncompressed format.

Posted by: Ann Anemas | August 24, 2006 5:54 PM

Marc,

Brilliant post. This is the sort of thing that you're best at.

Technology may have done it in, but it's been badly managed for reasons already mentioned above. I used to love it (the GW Tower), but stopped going because of the surly people who work there. They are more into themselves and each other than anything else. This is one of those places, like the post office, that's run for the benefit of its employees, not its customers. I'm surprised it's lasted this long.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | August 25, 2006 6:18 AM

I go to Amazon and look at people's best of lists. Who needs Tower?

Posted by: Feh | August 25, 2006 12:22 PM

Marc, you wrote:

"For all its splendors, the web has yet to overcome that basic advantage that the physical world has, whether in print or in a bricks and mortar store--the power of chance, of your eye wandering on the page to an article on a topic you didn't know you were interested in, of your ears luring you into a record store to hear sounds you would never know to seek out on the open web."

Do you actually own a computer? The Web is "power of chance" personified, man! That's what the magic of linking is all about ... start somewhere you know, follow a link to a new place, and again, and again, and suddenly you're in terra incognita, where you may make some wonderful discoveries.

I think Tower's prices are mainly what's doing it in. Tower (and Fye too) normally charge $16.99 and up (sometimes $20 or close to it) for the same CD I can order from Amazon for $12.99 or download from iTunes for ten bucks.

I like Tower and hit the Tysons location once a week or so, and I'll miss being able to do that. But as long as they were expecting me to pay a premium of $4 ot $5 for the priviliege of buying a CD there, they were bleeding dollars to competitors.

Posted by: SteveG | August 25, 2006 3:28 PM

To me, links don't have the same power of complete randomness that my eye roaming over a well-chosen music selection can provide. If I'm looking in Amazon for a recording of Franck's violin sonata, I'm going to get a bunch of links to other turn-of-the-20th-century French music. Wow. Whereas in a store, my eye may tarry over a Frescobaldi recording as I stride towards the Franck section. Or I might remember that I had been meaning to pick up Jay-Z's "Vol. 3: In My Lifetime" as I look to see what the new J-Dilla looks like.

Posted by: Lindemann | August 27, 2006 5:58 PM

The power of Tower has always been that I could walk in there and start browsing and find one, maybe two CDs that have long been out of print, but there they are sitting right in front of me, reasonably priced. If Tower folds it's just one less place I can get lucky.

Posted by: Gene | August 28, 2006 12:52 PM

To Try Pandora--

Thanks for the tip. I love it. It's what I hoped that XMSR would be but isn't. Not quite Rob Bamberger, but a good find. You've improved my life. (I hope you read this post).

Posted by: Tried Pandora! Daddy Likey! | August 28, 2006 1:17 PM

As a number of posters have pointed out, there are fine independent music stores still out there--like Sound Garden in Fells Point and the Baltimore local chain Record & Tape Traders. This has become a niche business and Tower is simply not a niche player--stores are too big, overhead is too high, etc.

And as someone who is 58, I believe much of the mystique of buying music went out when CDs replaced LPs. Hey, I love not having to get up and turn the record over, the fact CDs can be played in cars, and that they don't scratch. On the other hand, I miss the bigness of the LP in your hand and the liner notes that albums had.

I still recall two sets of liner notes by the late songwriter/cartoonist Shel Silverstein that actually caused me to buy the records, because the notes were so evocative and entertaining.

Posted by: Jack | August 30, 2006 2:22 PM

To All,
I have to say I enjoyed reading all of these postings. However as an ex-employee
of TOWER,(over 20 years)I would like to point out some misconceptions that have been posted. First of all I will concede
that in the last ten years Tower employees'
have become not very nice and not as knowledgeable about music
as some of you have written. I worked at
the stores in Sacramento,Brea,NYC(village)
and London.(Picidilly Circus) I was trained
to always walk the customer to the area where the artist they were looking for was, not just point " over there". When I started at Tower in the late 70's I was a novice about music. Sure, I knew all about The Dead, The Allman Brothers,CSNY etc,etc.
WhatI didn't know was who MJQ, Mose Allison,
Sammy Kaye,Debussey,Nana Mossquri were. I was turned on to so many different genres'
of music thatI fell in love with the place. In those days there was a buyer for
each kind of genre. LP's were cool(liner notes) I loved to turn customers onto different kinds of music. When something was on the turn table and the customer would ask " What's playing" I would get a kick out of giving them something new.
As for the higher prices....In those days no one could beat us. Of course there
wasn't a Best Buy, Wal Mart, or Target. Since some of you like to blame Tower for the $20.00 CD you need to look at The Majors ie. WEA,POLY,MCA,SONY,EMI,BMG for
that. In conclusion Tower is a great company and the man who founded it (Russ)
is one of the greatest,coolest, and most
respected person I have ever known.

Rock On,
Tower


Sammy Kaye,Debussey,

Posted by: kafka | August 30, 2006 10:53 PM

Sammy, I am sure everything you said was true, but unfortunately what all the customers are saying about Tower is true also. I had a few good experiences in Target, but the clerks were either rude or extremely unhelpful. Combine this with prices that were $3-5 higher than Best Buy and you spell death.

Businesses that take their base for granted soon find themselves in the dust bin.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2006 4:14 PM

This is to everyone out there with their anti-Tower sentiment. I worked at Tower off and on for three years at the Broad Street Store in Philadelphia. Before you take immediate appraisal of my bias, I'd like to point out a few things. Tower going bankrupt is NOT just about Tower going bankrupt. Yes, what we played in the store tended to aim at the lowest common denomenator. Yes, their were ethnic titles blindly inserted into playlists specifically for equality reasons. Yes, the prices are a little steep. Heck, it really wasn't that beneficial to me to work there, but what America, even the world, had in Tower was an all-encompassing, stand-alone musical outlet where customers had, literally, every possible style of music in front of them.

Tell me a few things about the competition (brick and mortar that is). Which Wal-Mart or Best Buy could some music scholar go to and find a reggae section that wasn't 60% Bob Marley? What Sam Goody or FYE could one go to and find some old school hip hop (I mean pre-NWA old school)?

If/when Tower becomes nothing but a mere memory, this could be a very symbolic end to the music industry as we know it. Sure, music will still be made. That's a given. Music will still be sold. But options will be severely limited due to the corporate push from labels. If interscope wants TV on the Radio to hit the charts, they'll have to advertise severely and create deals with Wal-mart and Best Buy costing them more money than they'll ever make on the CD for it to happen. With Tower going, not-so-mainstream labels like Matador, Arts & Crafts, maybe even Epitaph could be in fatal danger. The only way to discover a Belle & Sebastian or a Yo La Tengo or a Rancid or a Broken Social Scene was to go to a store, find an empassioned review written by a clerk at that store, and be persuaded enough to put the headphones at the listening station on to simply let the music possibly change your life.

If Tower goes, that experience goes with it. With advertising emphasis on what's new and chart-topping, how are the generations of the future going to find out about the artists of yesteryear. I didn't find out about Jazz, The Clash, Fela Kuti, and so many others through MTV or the radio. It was at a store with $20 and a chance to take. That in itself may be a rarity, but it's just another joy of going to a record store. If Tower goes the way of the dodo, it could be another, as Don Maclean so poetically mused, "day the music died."

And for all you indie people. Your precious indie stores aren't going to be any safer if Tower goes. Tower is the last standing levee to the land your store sits on. The digital revolution is your Katrina. If Tower goes, the AKA Music's, Spaceboy's (though recently deceased), and Repo Records' futures are just a grim. That goes for Amoeba Music as well. Please, don't let the store experience die.

Posted by: Matthew | September 8, 2006 11:28 AM

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