Over at The Hollywood Reporter, Chris Morris checks in from the NARM convention in Florida, with a report that music retailer Tower Records may be on its last legs. This news comes after the company filed for bankruptcy in 2004, and many of the company’s stores have shut down. Around the time of the Chapter 11 filing, I did a long article for The Austin Chronicle, centered around the closing of Austin’s Tower Records location, near the UT campus. What was fascinating and depressing to realize (and why I bother bringing up any of this today), is the fact that Tower Records is no Wal-Mart or even a Blockbuster. It’s a relatively small operation by comparison, and really the country’s leading chain record store.
When the store closed in Austin, it was decidedly different than when it opened, replacing the old Varsity movie theater on Guadalupe. Austinites were outraged that corporate America was moving in. Fast forward a dozen years later, and Austinites are outraged that the last University-based record store (there is not one near the campus) was forced to shut its doors in the age of digital music. The folks at Tower corporate were especially bewildered because both the Austin location and the Berkeley location were suffering. They were success stories first, and later failures for the same reason: college students. Rather than “mom ‘n’ pop” record purists gleefully singing “ding dong, Tower’s dead” because it’s seen as corporate… it’s crucial to recall that this says more about the nature of our economy and the way music does or does not fit inside.
The demise of Tower Records is a serious sea change, from the days of Sam Goody and the like. Now, you have to get your music online, at an independent record store like Amoeba or Waterloo, or shop at non-music stores like Best Buy and Starbucks. Granted, there’s still the Virgin Megastore, but that’s sort of a different story because it’s part of a larger corporation (Richard Branson’s Virgin), as opposed to a brand name established to sell music. The point is, the final act of Tower Records will be a sad day indeed, and it even has implications across the board, into the film industry. What movie retailers are next? And even sadder, once Tower is gone, will anyone really notice?