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Thread started 03/06/18 10:52pm

purplethunder3
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Russ Solomon, Founder of Tower Records, Dies at 92

Russ Solomon, Founder of Tower Records, Dies at 92

By ROBERT D. McFADDENMARCH 5, 2018


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Russ Solomon at the original Tower Records store in Sacramento in 1987. CreditTerrence McCarthy

Russ Solomon, who pioneered the superstore hangout for music lovers by founding Tower Records and expanded it worldwide before internet pirates and crushing debts rendered the chain obsolete and bankrupt, died on Sunday night at his home in Sacramento. He was 92.

His son Michael confirmed the death.

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A high school dropout who sold used jukebox records at 16 in his father’s drugstore in Sacramento, Mr. Solomon was the driving force behind a sprawling enterprise that began with one store in that city in 1960 and grew into a dominant competitor in music retailing with nearly 200 stores in 15 countries. Sales of recorded music, videos and books eventually topped $1 billion a year.

With marketing instincts that even rivals and critics called ingenious, Mr. Solomon built megastores, some bigger than football fields, and stocked them with as many as 125,000 titles, virtually all of the popular and classical recordings on the market.

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Yet many patrons said there was a clublike intimacy about the stores, where, as Bruce Springsteen once put it, “everyone is your friend for 20 minutes.”

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Open all year from 9 a.m. to midnight, staffed by hip salespeople who could answer almost any question about recordings, the stores became the haunts of music aficionados scouring endless racks for rock, heavy metal, jazz, blues, standards, classicals, country-westerns and myriad other offerings. Sometimes popular bands and singers performed in the stores.

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Mr. Springsteen, Bette Midler, Lou Reed and Michael Jackson were regular patrons. So was David Chiu, a Brooklyn journalist.

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“When you walked into the Tower Records store in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood back in the day, you just didn’t go in there to buy an album and then rush off to leave,” he wrote in Cuepoint, an online publication, in 2016. “To me, going into Tower was like visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art or attending a baseball game — it required a certain investment of time.”

Mr. Solomon told Billboard magazine in 2015: “Our favorite regular was Elton John. He probably was the best customer we ever had. He was in one of our stores every week, literally, wherever he was — in L.A., in Atlanta when he lived in Atlanta, and in New York.”

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In an interview for this obituary last September, Mr. Solomon recalled that he opened the first Tower Records store in what had been his father’s drugstore with $5,000 in borrowed capital. He called it “a neighborhood business,” which he named after the Tower Theater, a local landmark that was built in 1938 and topped by a neon-bathed, 100-foot Art Deco pillar.

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He soon opened a second Sacramento outlet, but the business did not take off until 1968, when he opened Tower Records in San Francisco. It was an instant sensation in the heart of the hippie and music scene, capitalizing on the 1967 Summer of Love. At 5,000 square feet, the store was small by later company standards, but it set a formula for the future: wide selections and discounted prices.

“I stole ideas from supermarket merchandising,” Mr. Solomon recalled. The store, he said, stacked hot-selling items on the floor, to encourage impulse buying and to suggest plentiful supplies, reinforcing the impression that Tower would be well stocked when competitors’ supplies had run out. The store also set late-night closing hours.

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But the most important innovation, he said, was hiring a staff so well versed in the local music scene that the store could order its own inventory. It was a task that music chains typically assigned to a central office to achieve economies of scale for their outlets. But Mr. Solomon found that local judgments were more profitable, and decentralized ordering became a pattern for all his stores.

“We wanted people in the store to run the store — they’re your strength,” Mr. Solomon said. “Central buying is just a bad idea. You can’t make decisions on what to do in Phoenix if you’re sitting in New York or London.”

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While staff wages were relatively low, the workers were given unusual fringe benefits, including parties with live bands and opportunities to mingle with musicians, promoters, record company executives and radio and television personalities, Mr. Solomon said. And in the 1960s and ′70s, he said, employees were given time off to attend protests against the Vietnam War.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “We had to be with the scene. It was important to us and to them.”

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As business boomed in the ′70s and ′80s, he established Tower Records outlets in major cities across the United States, many with 20,000 to 40,000 square feet of space. The New York flagship, in Greenwich Village, opened in 1983.

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Tower began opening stores abroad in the 1980s, starting in Japan and spreading in Asia, Europe and Latin America. In the 1990s, it became the nation’s largest privately held music retailer, with nearly 200 stores in the United States and 14 other countries.

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But it never went public. “That was the dumbest thing I ever did,” Mr. Solomon conceded. Selling stock might have paid for further expansion. Instead, he borrowed to finance more stores, and his debt swelled to $300 million. In 1999, Tower sales topped $1 billion, but its financial tailspin had already begun. The company lost $10 million in 2000 and $90 million in 2001.

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Mr. Solomon sold and closed stores and converted others to franchises. At the same time, the music business went into a slump. Tower declared bankruptcy in 2004, and in 2006 it was forced to liquidate and close.

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Tower Records in downtown Manhattan in 2006, shortly before the company closed.CreditMary Altaffer/Associated Press
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Mr. Solomon acknowledged that he had underestimated the internet’s threat to store retailing. Pirates downloaded music without paying for it, and paying customers turned to online vendors and price-cutters like Wal-Mart and Best Buy. The owner blamed himself.

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“I was overextended,” Mr. Solomon said. “I was swamped by the debt.”

Russell Malcolm Solomon was born on Sept. 22, 1925, in San Francisco to Clayton Solomon and the former Annette Sockolov. The boy and his sister, Shirley, grew up mostly in Sacramento, the state capital, where their father established his business, Tower Cut Rate Drugs, in the late 1930s.

Russell, an indifferent student, was expelled for repeated truancy from C. K. McClatchy High School at 16 and went to work for his father. He served stateside in the Army Air Forces from 1944 to 1946.

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In 1946, he married Doris Epstein, from whom he was divorced. In 2010, he married Patricia Drosins, who survives him. Besides his son Michael, he is also survived by another son, David; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Michael Solomon said his father died, apparently of a heart attack, while watching the Academy Awards ceremony on television.

Mr. Solomon attempted a comeback in 2007, opening a store called R5 Records at the location of his first Sacramento store. He no longer had the rights to the Tower Records name, but used its red and yellow color scheme for his logo. After three relatively unsuccessful years, R5 Records was sold to a local music chain.

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A nostalgic documentary, “All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records,” directed by the actor Colin Hanks, was released in 2015. It featured Mr. Solomon and many of his former employees and patrons, including Elton John, who called the shuttering of Tower Records “one of the great tragedies of my life.”

"If you're living, you've got nothing left to prove..."
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Reply #1 posted 03/07/18 12:58am

free2bFreeda2

rose 🌹 rose
my sincere condolences to family, friends, associates along with the many who loved Mr Russ Solomon (an unsung icon.
🎼


he inspired so many.
read link posted below.
: https://en.wikipedia.org/...er_Records
📀🎵📀
(tower records "recca stowe" was where i first experienced the sound of Prince via 'controversy'.....
thank you Russ.🎶
[Edited 3/7/18 1:26am]
federal judge says, "there is evidence." : https://www.yahoo.com/new...itics.html
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Reply #2 posted 03/07/18 10:27am

jjhunsecker

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I used to practically live in Tower Records. I used to joke that they should just send my paycheck directly there. ! lol Must have been in the NYC Grenwhich Village store, and the Lincoln Center store, at least once a week for about 25 years

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Reply #3 posted 03/07/18 1:07pm

luvsexy4all

jjhunsecker said:

I used to practically live in Tower Records. I used to joke that they should just send my paycheck directly there. ! lol Must have been in the NYC Grenwhich Village store, and the Lincoln Center store, at least once a week for about 25 years

probably was there at the same time as u

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Reply #4 posted 03/07/18 3:28pm

jjhunsecker

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luvsexy4all said:



jjhunsecker said:


I used to practically live in Tower Records. I used to joke that they should just send my paycheck directly there. ! lol Must have been in the NYC Grenwhich Village store, and the Lincoln Center store, at least once a week for about 25 years



probably was there at the same time as u



I was there so much that they could have delivered my mail there lol
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Reply #5 posted 03/07/18 3:45pm

StrangeButTrue

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I worked at Tower on South Street in Philly in 1999-ish for a hot minute. It was beautiful chaos and there were promos flowing like water. I liked the job a lot though, all of the co-workers were very devoted to their specialties. When Eminem released an album his record company did an in-store and they turned the E in Tower backwards on the giant sign outside of the store but they never turned it forwards again. I think they drive by it in the beginning credits of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" during the cruise down South Street. There was another store in Philly on Market that was HUGE and always had the best remainders/cut-outs of import singles and compilations. Great memories. Hilariously ominous training videos.
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[Edited 3/7/18 15:49pm]
if it was just a dream, call me a dreamer 2
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Reply #6 posted 03/07/18 4:15pm

RJOrion

i used to go to the original Tower Record's store on Watt Avenue, in Sacramento, in the 80s...thats where i heard "When Doves Cry" for the very first time...i had no idea until recently, that Tower Records was kinda like a big deal...
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Reply #7 posted 03/07/18 5:38pm

purplethunder3
121

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RJOrion said:

i used to go to the original Tower Record's store on Watt Avenue, in Sacramento, in the 80s...thats where i heard "When Doves Cry" for the very first time...i had no idea until recently, that Tower Records was kinda like a big deal...

It was a HUGE deal back in the day...

"If you're living, you've got nothing left to prove..."
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Reply #8 posted 03/09/18 3:10pm

JoeyC

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Just a few months ago i was on my favorite Facebook group(San Francisco Remembered), where we had this big appreciation thread for Tower Records. That company had a pretty passionate group of fans. Me personally, i used to spend a decent amount of time visiting the ones in San Francisco(North Beach), and Seattle(University district). I wish i would have gotten a chance to visit the ones in NYC(Manhattan) and Hollywood.

Anyway, that documentary on Tower Records is a really good watch.

Rest in Peace, Russ.

[Edited 3/9/18 15:13pm]

Rest in Peace Bettie Boo. See u soon.
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