BY SARA SHERR The Tower Records at Broad and Chestnut was scheduled to close on Friday, Dec. 22. Instead, the doors shut late Wednesday night after an independent Virginia record retailer bought up the last of the remaining stock, which really wasn’t much by then. Two similar mass purchases had occurred earlier in the week, one from a New Jersey record store owner who bought up a bunch of major label stuff (which means a lot of Daniel Powter and Ashley Parker Angel, and returns for credit! Smart cookie!) The other was an unknown company which volunteered to take the bulk of our Bayside stock off of our hands. We boxed it up and sent it off to a warehouse at an undisclosed location in Illinois. Thank you, mystery crap collectors! If you can sell this stuff to anyone, you deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, or whatever it is they give out to Purveyors of Poop. Tower certainly could have used your advice.
Bayside was Tower’s in-house distributor in Sacramento for unlucky indie labels whose stuff we didn’t already get from places like ADA, Caroline, Koch, RED, or any of the other reputable distributors who were not the three majors. I say “unlucky” because somewhere around the first bankruptcy in 2004, Tower laid off its many intelligent local reps like Dave Queppett, who knew his imprisoned West Coast rappers as well as his bluegrass pickers. After that, I would say it was run by monkeys from the San Diego Zoo, but that’s an insult to monkeys everywhere. Bayside never ever sent us what we needed when we needed it, like say, the WDAS collections. They would just continually send back our returns, like say, the Best of Vanilla Ice. A month later, they’d turn up on our list of returns; we’d send them back, rinse and repeat. After Great American bought us, they visited the Bayside warehouse, and I imagine it was kind of like a parent opening up a closet of a teenager’s allegedly clean bedroom and having the previous contents of the floor tumble out. “Uh, what’s this?” “I dunno. Stuff?”
So about a month into the going-out-of-business sale, we were flooded with West Coast rap that was so gangsta that in some cases it didn’t come in proper jewel cases, George Strait Christmas albums, the entire Dada catalog, the En Vogue album that has the manicurists and hairstylists filling in for the original members, and shit that no one has ever head of. Not even David Snyder. The rap section was marked down to a dollar and kids would come in, laugh at it and walk out. I think we should have paid them a dollar to buy that crap.
I showed up Thursday morning, Dec. 21, the day of my 37th birthday, completely unaware The End had come until I read the signs that read, “Thanks for seven years!” I contemplated going home and spending the rest of my birthday in bed. I’ve been told by my mother (on numerous occasions) that I was 12 hours late to my own birth, so sleeping seemed like a fine way to celebrate. My entire life has been spent at war with the snooze button. But one of my bosses found me and let me in, and I crossed the VIP Line of the Slackjawed (half
in denial, half still wondering when we were going to open).
There were about 10 of us left, and we moved racks around, took turns answering the phones, finding funny ways to tell callers that Tower is now an ex-store, ate free pizza, enjoyed free pastries from Isgro courtesy of the kind Sony/BMG rep who’d come to pay her respects. Then we began to use the racks as toys. I got Terry the Jazz Guy to give me a ride on one of them, and I stood on the front of it like Kate Winslet in Titanic, and then pretended I was Miss Tower America, waving from a float at no one. We started taking pictures — funny ones, sad ones, artistic ones, and the somewhat pervy. One of my female co-workers remarked that the neon red Tower signs in the windows of the former Opera Room on the second Floor looked like the Red Light District in Amsterdam. So I got my camera and we snapped pictures of each other (fully clothed, you pervs) displaying the wares, which consisted of a screwdriver. The day ended at dinnertime, when I raided the last of the promos, many of which made good Christmas gifts for family members. (I’m unemployed and my divorced and remarried family is large and unwieldy, cut me some slack here). We exchanged hugs, goodbyes, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses on a While You Were Out pink message pad, and then it was over.
I can honestly say I’ve had worse birthdays.
While I frequently referred to the Tower Records at Broad and Chestnut as “Stupid and Crazy,” I’m proud that I worked there and I’m honored to have done so with such a diverse, intelligent, and passionate bunch. The good customers were truly good, and I learned from them as much they learned from me. One of them bought me lunch when I found a song that her father used to dance to with her ailing mother.
Our store consistently made money when many of the others in the 89- location chain merely took up space. We were a good store in a bad company, and there was no reason we should have closed. Tower Records failed us and failed all the music fans of Broad and Chestnut. When they filed for bankruptcy in 2004, everything that the higher-ups did to save the company was too little, too late, and way too reactionary.
Here’s a list of things the company should have done:
1. Close the stores where there is consistently more staff than customers during business hours. No duh.
2. They waited way too long to bring in the scanners (a year ago), which allow you to sample snippets of most titles before purchasing them. Before that, we had just plain old CD changers all over the store. It was my job to change them out and select titles that people would want to hear, from the hits down to the obscure indie stuff. The problem was that if something wasn’t already on the listening station, there was no way to hear it before buying. So if someone comes in and says, I heard Song X on the radio, and they can’t listen to it to make sure if it was the right song. And opened items were non-returnable unless they were defective, meaning you could only exchange for the same CD that you didn’t want in the first
3. This problem isn’t unique to Tower, just all mismanaged companies: Don’t hire your idiot friends, booty calls, and drug dealers as upper management. Don’t hire a Manchester casualty as your import buyer — especially when we’re stuck with his mistakes! Earlier this year, one of the big cheeses came in to check out our store. The best he could come up with was to tell us that we should have more posters on the wall, of local artists. We already had a fantastic mural on the wall painted by a local artist. More importantly, we had flipped the Classical and Video Departments a year earlier. Classical moved downstairs and the Video Department moved upstairs. To the last day, we never got new signage telling customers where to find these sections. We were left with a neon sign that read “Magazines &” and Big Cheese never noticed this. Neither did anyone in Sacramento.
4. What made Tower distinct from the average shitty chain store in a mall was that each store did its own buying. This changed in 2004, and started with centralized buying. Would you want some schnook in Sacramento to tell a store in Philadelphia what sells? Especially the same schnook that can’t even send you a freakin’ sign?
5. Unimaginative, uninspiring sales and promotions. Those catalog sales were nifty. Who wouldn’t want to complete their collection for $9.99? But is that all you can do? Last summer, they started a program called Tower Insider. To this day, even Tower Insiders can’t explain what the hell it is.
6. This is advice for the major labels too: Get over the ’60s, and while you’re at it, get over the ’90s, too. This isn’t the Age of Aquarius or Nirvana, and sadly, neither one’s coming back. You could have spent all that extra money on better salaries for smarter, experienced staff.
7. Why couldn’t we keep batteries in stock at all times?
8. Ditto video games
9. Ditto iPods and other electronics
10. This thing called the Internet, just in case you’ve never heard of it before.
Eat my fuck, Sacramento. Eat my fuck.