My Last Yellow Bag

tower-bags.jpg“We had better sales before we were going out of business,” says a soon-to-be-unemployed Tower Records clerk about the big Going Out of Business sale the terminally liquidated music and video chain launched on Saturday. (Link from the Velvet Rope via LA Observed.)

It’s no wonder. The chain is knocking a measly 10 percent off its overpriced stock. You can do better at Best Buy, and they aren’t going anywhere. I went inside the Torrance store anyway and picked up a few classical disks (Beethoven’s triple concerto featuring David Oistrakh, Debussy’s most famous orchestral works, a two-disk Leonard Bernstein survey) that looked like good deals, plus a live Irene Kral — that jazzy lady is almost forgotten and her recordings hard to find. I didn’t want to wait until all their best inventory was gone and the racks half-empty; that would be too depressing.

I asked the sweet Goth girl behind the counter how long this sale would go on. “About a week,” she said. I told her I thought at this rate it would be more like a month. But now, thinking about it, maybe not. These items were not priced to move. At best, they were trying to get rid of the most recent stuff that the store overstocked. Could be, in a week they will close the doors and ship the remaining inventory to an online reseller. Maybe it will all be sucked into the maw of Amazon, or Ebay.

This story, by longtime music industry journalist Chris Morris, suggests the liquidation will unsettle a number of businesses:

The sell-off of Tower’s inventory, valuations of which run as high as $200 million, could have a wide-ranging impact on the music business at large. The company’s West Sacramento, Calif., warehouse is filled with product from the vendors of its independent distribution company, Bayside Distribution, and its accessories suppliers. Companies with a high degree of exposure could be dealt a serious blow when their product is returned for full wholesale cost.

According to Morris, Tower’s demise leaves Virgin Megastores as the largest remaining terrestrial “deep catalogue” music seller. The firm’s founder took note of the occasion.

The family of Russ Solomon, who founded Tower in 1960 as a music department in his father’s Sacramento pharmacy, remained a 15% shareholder. Solomon did not enter a bid for the company.

In an e-mail circulated Friday to Tower’s staff, Solomon said, “The fat lady has sung … she was way off key. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.”

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6 thoughts on “My Last Yellow Bag

  1. Past Tower sales have been like that, too. Hardly a reason to make a special effort. Tower seems like a classic case of a company that forgot what business it was in. Rather than being the portal to musical discovery, the company determined that it’s role was to accept crates of cds and what have you off of ships, unpack them, put a price tag on the merchandise and arrange the stuff alphabetically and by genre.

    Turns out other companies are better at doing that than Tower. Meanwhile, Tower let others become that portal to music discovery.

  2. Hey, at least that particular store carried classical music. I tried to buy some at the Tower down the hill from me about a year ago and was told they didn’t stock any. I couldn’t believe it, so I wandered every aisle. T’was true. None. Not a single pressing of Bach, Brahms, Vivaldi or Beethoven to be found in a 30,000sf (I’m guessing) store.

  3. It’s not quite the case that classical music is what Tower Records was invented for, but all Tower stores I ever visited — Torrance, Berkeley, West Hollywood (with an entirely separate store for classical), Santa Monica, Westwood and San Francisco — all of them had impressive classical departments. One might also point out they had impressive reggae, folk, spoken word, Irish, death-metal and other minority tastes, and that’s true. But classical seemed to be a specialty. I guess not in Hawaii.

    The thing is, as Ann Powers pointed out in the Times, Tower’s deep-catalog approach is redundant from a strictly purchase-minded standpoint. If you live near a mailbox somewhere on Earth, you can probably get Amazon or some specialty service to send you virtually any CD released. And, to take the point further, if you buy one Beethoven CD, you can be sure that Amazon will suggest others to you in perpetuity.

    But that’s not the same thing as purely random browsing. Back when I bought LPs, I made leaps into new (to me) music by looking at the cover art, and trying to figure out what kind of music would inspire this cover art. I might go into a store looking for one thing by a composer and, not finding it, buy something else that I came to treasure far more than my initial choice.

    For my son, the lack of this experience will go unnoticed. With his ten fingers and this computer, he explores worlds of music — and so do I. “The Long Tail” is a good thing for people like us. But I’ll miss Tower nonetheless.

  4. To be fair to the local buyer (if that’s how the company worked), there was always a huge supply of Hawai’ian music, both current and backlist. But still, three centuries of Western musical tradition just ignored as though it had never happened?

  5. Thanks to the Tower in Torrance, I went through a phase of buying Hawai’ian LPs about 25 years ago. Now they’re all in storage. But it’s a little-known fact that those quintessentially American cowboy music devices, the slide guitar and the pedal steel, gained popularity in the South in the 20s after Hawai’ian groups came through the area on tour. They were the first to play that way, and Americans fitted it into the C&W sound.

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