According to the Sacramento Bee, Solomon was watching the Academy Awards ceremony when he apparently suffered a heart attack, said his son, Michael Solomon. “Ironically, he was giving his opinion of what someone was wearing that he thought was ugly, then asked [his wife] Patti to refill his whisky,” Solomon said. She found him dead when she returned.
Solomon and Tower’s impact on the music industry of the 1980s and ‘90s cannot be understated. Prior to Tower’s expansion from its Sacramento base, record stores were relatively small and held limited inventory; Tower was designed to be a store where a music fan could find anything, and often did, with assistance from the experts that could be found in nearly every branch of the store. An artist’s complete catalog was usually in stock, along with imported items and singles; independent and overseas releases could often be found there and few other places. They stayed open late and became evening destinations for music fans, who’d stop in and buy a few items as part of their nights out: The Towers on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and Broadway in New York’s Greenwich Village were landmarks in their own right.
Solomon took the company from humble beginnings in his hometown to a billion-dollar-a-year business at the company’s (and the music business’) late-1990s peak. Its Greenwich Village location occupied the south entire side of West 4th Street between Broadway and Lafayette Streets — an entire store dedicated to international music was next door to the main branch — and across Lafayette was Tower Video, itself a booming business in the era.
Yet it’s difficult to think of a business that was impacted more by the rise of file-sharing, the Internet and Amazon than Tower. Music became free, Amazon enabled the customers who still paid for it to shop from home, and big box retailers like Best Buy and Target, which, unlike Tower, drew their profits from other products, offered lower prices to those who still went to stores. The end came surprisingly quickly: Tower went out of business in December 2006, the formerly overstuffed shelves of its 89 U.S. stores either empty or filled with the last dregs of its inventory. Solomon tried again a few months later, opening a new store on the site of one of his original Sacramento stores, but that too failed.
Other megastores that arose in the wake of Tower’s success, such as Virgin Megastore, FYF and HMV, held on for a few years and then too gave up.
Tower and the company received a heartfelt epitaph from Colin Hanks, who directed the 2015 documentary on the store, “All Things Must Pass.”
More to come…
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