(Last UPDATED 2/5/2021) A brief description of, and background on, the rise and fall of Tower Records – a Sacramento story. NEW: Tower Records is back (sort of)! See “Updates” below.
Two things recently started me thinking about the documentary All Things Must Pass: 1) seeing the refurbished Tower Records neon sign from the original Watt Avenue store at the recent Golden 1 Center Open House; and, 2) learning that Russ Solomon was to be inducted later this year into the California Hall of Fame.
Note: In 2017, Solomon was also honored with a star on the Sacramento Walk of of Stars. Additionally, in late 2020 Russ Solomon had a park, located in the McKinley Village neighborhood of East Sacramento named in his honor.
Tower Records and Tower Books
Tower Records began when a teenaged Solomon started selling vinyl records out of his father’s drugstore on Broadway in 1941. The drugstore was right next to the Tower Theater – where the Tower Café is now located.
While I patronized both Tower Records and Tower Books, I was always more into books than music. I viewed the Tower Books store on Broadway as my neighborhood bookstore. If I was in the market for a new book and did not have a particular book in mind, I would wander the aisles until one caught my eye. I liked the fact that employees recommended specific books that they had enjoyed via notes located on the bookshelves. I always took note of the recommendations, and at times took the recommended book home as well.
SacramentoRevealed.com – All Things Sacramento (from a personal perspective)
If I was waiting for a particular book (often part of a series) to be published, I would call Tower Books and have them order and put one aside for me. I would then dash over when they called to tell me my book had arrived.
The individual managers of the Tower Records and Tower Books stores had a great degree of autonomy when it came to the inventory they carried. The inventory varied from store to store – depending as it did on the tastes of their customers.
My daughter worked at both Tower Records and Tower Books like many other young adults in Sacramento. It was great experience – including learning how to deal with the (sometimes not so nice) public. When my daughter left Sacramento, it was to manage a Tower Books store in the Bay Area before she moved on to other things.
In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s Tower Records and Tower Books was expanding in both the U.S. and internationally. I remember my daughter being both sad and happy when one of her friends at the Broadway Tower Books store was sent off to open and manage a new store in South America.
When opening a new store Tower would put together an “A-team” of their employees armed with all they needed to put the store together (staple guns, shelving, screw drivers, etc.) in nothing flat – and send them on their way.
At one point in time Tower Records and Tower Books had more than 170 record and book stores in 20 different countries. Then in 2004, Tower declared bankruptcy and its U.S. stores were liquidated.
It was the end of what had become a Sacramento institution – and international retail empire. The reasons for the downfall of the Tower empire were many – and it is not unreasonable to wonder why it did not occur sooner than it did. Luck might have had something to do with it.
See related blog post: Walk Down Memory Lane
All Things Must Pass Premier/Tower Alumni Reunion
My daughter returned to Sacramento in 2015 to attend the premier of All Things Must Pass. The documentary was screened, appropriately, at the Tower Theater. Hundreds of Tower Records and Tower Book alumni from all over the U.S. attended the screening and numerous other “reunion” events scheduled around the premier.
I did not see All Things Must Pass when it was released – so I finally decided that it was about time to check it out.
Colin Hanks, son of actor Tom Hanks, did a very good job chronicling the rise and fall of Tower Records and Tower Books in All Things Must Pass. The freewheeling nature of Tower management, with the added spice of drugs, alcohol and sex during the 70’s and 80’s in particular, made an interesting story – all the more so because it was true. As an aside – Solomon acknowledged in the documentary that he did not care what condition they were in – but employees were expected to show up for work.
A Few Last Thoughts
With the demise of Tower Records and Tower Books, Sacramento and other host cities lost a major employer of youth just starting out in the job market. Tower Records and Tower Books gave many young adults the opportunity to gain work experience and develop a work ethic.
In the here and now, I still have a hard time walking past an interesting looking bookstore – and I often stop in and browse. Times have changed, however, and I have to admit that the majority of my book purchases now are for my Kindle via Amazon.
(1/4/2021) Tower Records is back (sort of). According to a recent article in the Sacramento Bee, as part of the bankruptcy the Tower brand and trademark were sold to Caiman Holdings, a Miami company. Caiman kept the website, and maintained the existing franchise agreements with store owners in foreign cities.
Later, the brand and trademark were taken over by Cumberland Corporate Services, an affiliate of financial services company Citco.
Due to the increased interest in vinyl records, Citco decided to relaunch Tower with a series of temporary popup stores, followed eventually perhaps by permanent stores in large markets where Tower had previously flourished. Stopping things in their tracks – the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tower Records for now remains a website, operating out of Brooklyn, New York. Who knows what the future many hold?
(5/24/18) Russ Solomon was inducted into the Music Business Hall of Fame on May 17, 2018 – the first person to be so honored. The award ceremony took place at the annual Music Business Association conference.
The award presentation took place during the Music Biz luncheon. It was noted, among other things, that Solomon both created and revolutionized the music retail business. Mention was also made that Solomon had been aware of his upcoming induction prior to his death.
His widow Patty and son Michael accepted the award on his behalf, alongside Colin Hanks the director of All Things Must Pass.
(3/7/18) Russ Solomon died on March 4, 2018 at the age of 92. The Sacramento Bee reported that he was drinking whiskey and watching the Oscars when he suffered an apparent heart attack.
Comments on Tower Records and Tower Books? Or, on All Things Must Pass?
Tripping down memory lane – what are your most vivid memories of Tower Records and Tower Books?
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