Why Tower Records Was The Greatest Music Store Of All Time

Tower Records

Photo: Nicolas Marchildon [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

We all had our favorite music stores in our lives. The go to place where we purchased all our records, cassettes, 8 tracks and CDs. Record stores as we used to call them in the old days, were for many of us a sanctuary where we would spend many hours browsing through thousands of records and CDs laid out beautifully in well organized bins. As a record collector, I always loved small privately owned record stores. These were the places where you could find certain titles that you could not find in the big major retailers. Those small shops were usually very personal. It was always the same people working in those record stores. There were usually one or two people that were very friendly and always one or two who were not. Of course there was always that one record store clerk or two who thought they were the rock stars. It was pretty comical sometimes.

These were usually the places that struggled to compete against the major chains. The small  privately owned independent record stores could not compete against the major retailers as far as price went. Unless you were buying used material, you would always pay more for brand new CDs or records in an independent record store. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s in the New York area the major retailers were places like Sam Goodys, Record World and the record departments in some of the huge chain department stores like Korvettes. Those places always had great sales especially the chain department stores. That was usually the reason people shopped at those places as opposed to the independent stores. However, if you wanted rare titles or a personal experience, the independent record store was usually the way to go… sometimes.

In the late 1980s and early 1990’s, a dream came true to record buyers in the New York area. It was just not New York. The dream grew in many other states around the country. It was the time when Tower Records began expanding. For the first time many hardcore record collectors and even the average fan got to experience the wonder of Tower Records. Now the average music fan might ask what could be so special about a record store? Well, the average music fan probably won’t appreciate this article. This one is for the hardcore. What do I mean by hardcore record collector? Hardcore record collectors define men or women who want to go out at 11 pm at night on a Sunday evening and browse through record bins. Hardcore collectors are the ones who on Christmas Day want to go flipping through some CD bins. Get the picture?

Our first presentation as to why Tower Records was the greatest record store of all time can be argued starting with the simple fact that the store never closed. Every day of the year Tower Records was open until midnight. Monday through Sunday, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Easter. no matter what the holiday Tower Records was open until midnight. Can you think of any other major retail store in history that was open every day until midnight? The only one that we could think of was Blockbuster Video.

There were three Tower Records stores on Long Island. They were located in Huntington, Carle Place and Massapequa. There were two huge Tower Records in the New York City borough of Manhattan. Both on Broadway. You could walk into a Tower Records at 11:30 at night and it would still be packed in New York City. Now the clientele late at night was usually different from the clientele in the afternoon, but it was still packed. In the suburbs it was a little different as they weren’t usually as crowded late at night. For many of us that was a great thing. We were able to browse a huge giant record store without the hassle of crowds surrounding us. It was beautiful!

Tower Records Departments

Our argument why Tower Records was the greatest music store of all time is not just justified because of their hours. It plays an important part, but it’s not the only reason. The main reason why Tower Records was the greatest music store of all time was simply because of its sheer size and the depth and amount of the titles that were in stock all the time. The store’s organization and separation of musical genres by individual department stores within the main store was also very unique.

When you walked into a Tower Records main floor main section it was usually filled with pop and rock music. Mainstream music, top 40 hits, all the major rock and pop artists were always found on the main floor or main section of Tower Records. Yes you heard right, main floor! Many Tower Records stores consisted of multiple floors. If you were visiting a Tower Records that was comprised of multiple floors, the floors were usually organized between pop music,classical music, jazz and country. Yes in these huge mammoth record stores, Tower Records actually dedicated individual floors to specific styles of music. Those Tower Records stores with individual floors were usually found in cities. Suburban Tower Records stores usually were separated by enclosed sections on one floor.

When you walked into an individual department of a Tower Records store, you were greeted with the sound of the style of music the department represented. When you walked into the classical music department you would hear a string quartet, a symphony, a piano concerto, etc.. playing over the speakers. The Jazz department would have the sounds of Miles Davis, Mike Stern, Dexter Gordon, etc… beautifully surrounding those shopping for jazz records and CDs. The same went for all the other departments dedicated to one genre of music. Each department was usually staffed by very knowledgeable people who specialized in that specific musical genre. Of course, there were exceptions, but for the most part Tower Records was pretty serious in employing the right people in the right departments.

Tower Records Stock

Most record stores categorized their music that was placed on the shelves or in bins by artists within sections of a specific musical genre. Artist’s names were  placed on dividers that stood over the top of the lps or cds. Tower records went one step further with major artists. The stores did so much volume that is caused them to not only divide sections by artists but also by albums within each artists section. Groups like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, The Who all had separate sections just dedicated to individual album titles.

One could also find many import titles within the artist sections. Most other music store chains in malls across the United States never really carried import titles. It was one of the advantages that independent stores held over the major retail chains. It was also what separated Tower Records form The Record Worlds and Sam Goodys’ in the retail music business. Tower Records carried the imports usually at reasonable prices. You never knew what you would find browsing through the bins of Tower Records because they updated their stock daily.

Tower Records Magazines and More

Rock and roll fans especially in the 70s, 80s and 90s loved reading rock magazines. Long before the dawn of the internet and the end of real human communication and touch, people actually got their information on bands from magazines. Tower Records had a massive selection of music and culture magazines. They stocked domestic and imported magazines. Tower Records also published their own monthly magazine entitled Pulse that was handed out free in the stores. This was not just a newsletter but a magazine close to the same size of Rolling Stone.

There will never be another music store like Tower Records. The sale of digital music and the streaming concept which now covers 80 percent of music sales have pretty much ended the sale of CDs Anyone who still buys CDs or vinyl usually does it at online retailers like Amazon. and even Tower Records online presence Tower.com. While vinyl can still be found in independent record stores and places like Barnes and Noble, the sale of actual physical merchandise in a major music retailer is just about dead. But there was a time when music shopping in a chain store was a wonderful experience. There was no better major retailer to do it in than Tower Records.


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