Goodbye to a Music Mecca

Employees at Tower Records on Sports Arena Boulevard were shocked when they heard on October 6 that the new owner, Great American Group, planned to liquidate the national music retailer and lay off its approximately 3000 employees.

"I came in and everyone was red-eyed and crying," says an employee. "We knew we were going to be sold, but at worst, we were thinking we would have to wear some mall-type uniform. That would be horrible, but at least I can still do what I love. But this just hit us out of the blue."

The next day, L.A.-based Great American showed up and started discounting all merchandise. Once the word got out, shoppers jammed the store and parking lot. A 50-year-old female shopper, not paying attention to traffic, was sent to the hospital with a broken ankle after being hit by an SUV in the crowded parking lot.

"The first day of the sale was horrible," another employee says. "Great American comes in and started putting up the sale signs and basically demoted the manager that has been here for almost 30 years. It's finally got back to normal, sort of."

The store is expected to close sometime in mid-December, once everything is gone. Most employees are staying on until the doors are shut, which allows them to qualify for unemployment benefits. The hardest hit were the store's managers, all of whom were a few years away from retirement.

"We're betting on whether it becomes a strip club, a mini-mall, or a Starbucks," says a third employee.

As the closing nears, the discounts will increase to get the merchandise out the door. "Eventually, towards the end, it will probably be 80 percent off," a cashier says. "There will be nothing left by then."

Another employee disagrees. "We have a good 90 to 100 copies of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Stadium Arcadium. It's never going to go anywhere," he says. "There's plenty of Fergie CDs and a lot of Frankie J, too."

Memorable in-store appearances and parking-lot concerts have included George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Smashing Pumpkins, the Deftones, the Black Eyed Peas, and locals Sprung Monkey and Unwritten Law.

DJ Atari was one of the store's regulars. "I loved going there late...they were open until midnight," he says. "I even got busted for stealing cassettes there when I was 15. I took Bad Music for Bad People by the Cramps and PiL's Second Edition. They took my picture and made my dad come down. They added my picture to this wall of pictures. I was back there shopping a month later." -- Larry Harmon

Tower Records was founded in Sacramento in 1960. It opened its first San Diego location in 1972 on Sports Arena Boulevard. As a teenager, I remember going to Tower on Christmas Day with a friend who'd been given a gift certificate. What other store was open at 11 p.m. on Christmas? A few decades later a second Tower Records opened in La Jolla. I went to both locations to ask patrons what they like and dislike about Tower Records. -- Josh Board

James Baxter, 23, Bay Park

Favorite music: "New rock, alternative."

What I dislike about Tower: "Columbia House works a lot better. You can get 12 CDs for a cheap price. And DVDs, too. In the long run, it's a better savings."

My favorite thing about Tower: "Seeing all the art on the CDs I enjoy. Even if you can look at it in a catalog, it's just not the same as holding the disc in your hand. Plus, the listening area. It's always a good thing to be able to put those headphones on and hear a few of the tracks."

Chris Puzzuoli, 28, Detroit, Michigan

Favorite music: "Classic rock and hip-hop."

What I dislike: "The price. The Internet has changed everything when it comes to retail. eBay has narrowed the gap. If I want a really good album, I can find a place online or eBay selling it used for $3.99 or $4.99. It might not be wrapped up in plastic and brand new...."

Favorite thing: "The selection. I'm big into hip-hop, and they have a lot of underground stuff."

Rio Mezta, 28, Ocean Beach

Favorite music: "Everything, but grunge is my favorite." (She purchased the Led Zeppelin box set.)

What I dislike: "I was sick for a long time, and I wanted to play in the parking lot here to celebrate my recovery. I'm not going to be able to do that now."

Favorite thing: "The employees knew their music. This place is an institution. Tower is the symbolism of rock 'n' roll. This is the place you went before or after the concerts at the Sports Arena across the street, when it wasn't ipayOne...when I walked in here and found out, I cried."

Commander Frederick W. Lynch, Sr., 69, Bonita

Favorite music: "Rock 'n' roll." (Purchased four old film soundtracks.)

What I dislike: "Well, nothing, really."

Favorite thing: "A fabulous selection of CDs and movies and sales at least every other week. Better than anything I ever bought at Kmart or Best Buy or any of those big places. I'm a retired commander, Navy fighter pilot. I don't even shop on the base because these prices are so much better. They have 'easy listening,' all the great singers like Sinatra. I've been shopping here for over 30 years."

Paul Ito, 30, North County

Favorite music: "Pepper, Sublime, Slightly Stoopid-type stuff."

What I dislike: "Over the years, the locations kind of bothered me. There's only the two in San Diego -- Sports Arena and La Jolla locations -- and I'm up north."

Favorite thing: "They are open late. I think until midnight. That's a huge plus."

Jane Norberg, 66, Pacific Beach

Favorite music: "Classical."

What I dislike: "I don't go all that much."

Favorite thing: "Tower employees seem to be the most knowledgeable and helpful. I like the wide selection. I remember buying the Messiah by Handel. I like Beethoven a lot. And from time to time, you hear things on the radio and don't hear everything they say about the song. Tower could usually pinpoint it for me.

Kevin Donaker, 42, Sorrento Valley

Favorite music: "Everything from classic rock, hip-hop, to power pop and modern stuff."

What I dislike: "Nothing I can think of."

Favorite thing: "The huge selection. They had obscure things and lots of current stuff. You could pretty much find anything you wanted there. Oftentimes I'd see something I didn't expect to buy and would walk out with a stack of CDs. Tower had a local band section, and sometimes our band [the Shambles] could be found in their bins."

Janna Smith, 25, Ocean Beach

Favorite music: "Pop and Top 40...everything but hard-core metal."

What I dislike: "It's easier to just burn CDs now or record them from friends. You can listen to an entire CD online. Usually I only buy CDs if I'm running through Target and I see something on sale that I wanted. I'm not the biggest music buyer. I only have a hundred CDs in my collection."

Favorite thing: "The displays of the certain CDs I'm interested in and being able to listen to them. Sometimes just looking at the artwork or pictures on the CD is enough. You can listen to the entire CD, but only if it's one of the ones they selected. That's why sometimes it's easier to do online."

Dolly Castillo, 40, Rancho Bernardo

Favorite music: "Jazz." (Purchased a Michael Franks CD and two DVDs.)

What I dislike: "I hate waiting for someone to attend to you. Sometimes I'm looking for a particular artist, and it's hard to find someone to help me find it."

Favorite thing: "The variety of music. And you could buy video games, movies, and even cool posters. I like the fact that they have older, '60s stuff. The prices are reasonable. Some of my friends order things online, but once you pay for shipping and handling, it's the same price or more. Not to mention the fact that it might be damaged in the mail or just not show up."

Bobby Fantasy, 31, Golden Hill

Favorite music: "Reggae."

What I dislike: "The prices are a little high."

Favorite thing: "The diversity of music. They have an amazing world music section. They have music from Africa, India, and non-Western countries. There are no other record stores in town that have a selection like Tower. I'll have to start buying stuff online."

Gene Padigos, 28, Paradise Hills

Favorite music: "Post-punk and rock." (Purchased a Morrissey DVD.)

What I dislike: "The prices. When they go out of business, I'll probably stick with going to M-Theory Records [in South Park]."

Favorite thing: "The accessibility and great selection."

Monica Cammarano, 43, Carmel Valley

Favorite music: "Alternative rock." (Purchased a Radiohead CD.)

What I dislike: "Nothing bad about Tower. I love this place."

Favorite thing: "That they would bring rock stars to the store. I remember years ago, when I was 17, Jon Anderson from Yes was there. The line wrapped around the building. He gave me a kiss on the cheek."

Mahsa Olamai, 14, Cardiff

Favorite music: "I like everything but country." ("And heavy metal," her mom adds.)

Favorite thing: "When you get it there, it's a hard copy. It's safe. If you buy it online and your computer crashes, it's gone forever. Buying it at a record store, it's really...


Least favorite: "Sometimes you go, and they don't have the CD. And just the fact that going there...if you're busy, it's easier online and not having my mom drive me."

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