Tower Records founder, Russ Solomon to open R5 Records

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by joefont, Jun 9, 2007.

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  1. joefont

    joefont Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Tower founder puts new spin on record store
    By David Watts Barton - Bee Staff Writer
    Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, June 9, 2007

    The bright-yellow facade and newly painted red trellises around the building leave no doubt what is happening at the corner of 16th Street and Broadway in Land Park.

    Tower is back.

    Well, not "Tower" per se, though its familiar color scheme now dominates the corner where Tower Records once stood. Instead, it's R5 Records and Video, which will open sometime this month. But the man behind the store remains the same.

    Russ Solomon is back.

    When Solomon's Tower Records declared bankruptcy and finally died in December after a slow, ugly decline, most figured the 81-year-old Solomon would take a well-deserved retirement.

    So, it comes as a surprise -- to those who don't know him well -- that just six months after his industry-changing record store chain closed, Solomon is opening a new record store. He is still receiving product, but the store is nearly ready, and he's looking at a "soft" opening as soon as next weekend.

    Solomon is starting R5 Records and Video halfway through a year in which compact disc sales are down 20 percent, and the word on everyone's lips is "digital." The conventional wisdom says downloads and iPods, not CDs, are the future.

    Which prompts a question: With all due respect, has it occurred to Solomon that he might appear to be a Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, unable to accept the new realities?

    Or, less poetically: Crazy?

    "I am crazy," Solomon says. "I guess it's something in the blood. It comes from an overdose of shellac years ago."

    That Solomon jokes about shellac -- the material records were made of when he first started selling them, 66 years ago -- tells a truth: from 78s and LPs to CDs and digital downloads, from mono to 5.1 surround sound, he's seen it all. And he isn't intimidated. He is, in fact, intrigued.

    He's also a proud man. Though time has taken its toll -- he's heavier, moves a bit slower, and what little hair he has left is completely white -- he speaks with the enthusiasm of a man with something to prove.

    "The real story is that you hate to go down a loser," he says bluntly.

    'There's life left' in business

    In a series of conversations on the phone, at his art-filled home in Arden Oaks, and in the Broadway store, Solomon argues that he can reinstate his "winner" status. More than that, he thinks that the record industry -- and perhaps a chain of R5 Records -- will be selling CDs long after he's gone.

    "I believe that there's life left (in the business)," he says. "There are things that need to be tried. And since I was preaching against a wall the last two years that what Tower was doing and what the industry was doing was misdirected and wrong, I owe it to myself and to the business to do it my way."

    Solomon's way, as he puts it, "is getting back to the fundamentals. Our focus has to be on people who love music, giving them great variety at great prices."

    The new store's name was cobbled together by Solomon and Patti Drosins, his longtime companion and partner in the store, and was determined by what few Web site names were available. "Tower Records" wasn't an option: it is now owned by Caiman Inc., an online retailer that continues to run the Web site.

    But according to Solomon, the new store will give anyone familiar with Tower Records flashbacks: despite the name change, R5 Records looks a lot like Tower in its heyday. In fact, the new logo was designed by Sacramentan Mick Michelson, now 89, who designed the original logo in the early '60s.

    Walking into the virtually empty store on Broadway, Solomon is greeted by other familiar faces: Store manager Paul Brown, who worked for Tower for 25 years, Dale Glover (28 years) and Phil Minas (33 years). Even the younger of Solomon's nine R5 employees -- some in their mid-20s -- have worked at Tower for years.

    "I give all the credit to the employees," says Solomon. "Local management, and the enthusiasm and knowledge of the employees -- that makes the difference and that's what you don't get in the big boxes. They know the music."

    Solomon won't say how much money he's investing, but off-the-cuff, off-the-record estimates by those who know the business run in the three-quarter- to 1 million-dollar range.

    Room for record stores

    There's great interest in R5 Records, in Sacramento and beyond. Rob Fauble competed against Tower since he started his store, The Beat, 25 years ago. He says his business at 17th and J streets is up 25 percent since Tower Broadway closed. Yet, he's thrilled Solomon is opening a new store.

    "We're having our best year ever," he says in one breath, and then adds, "Russ is my hero, so I think it's great he's opening. ... They took his company away from him, and he's been on the sidelines; now he has the opportunity to start with a clean slate."

    Solomon is a heroic figure to many in the business. Jim Donio is president of NARM, the National Association of Recording Merchandisers.

    "People couldn't see beyond the death knell," he says of Tower's demise. "But there is a future, and there are very smart people out there who know that the industry needs to change, and Russ is one of them."

    The heart of the "change" Solomon is proposing is less high-tech than high-touch, though he concedes the importance of digital realities. But he says the dangers are overblown.

    "They've been talking about digital online for 10 years, and it's still just 15 percent of the total of music sold," he says from his Los Angeles office. "People still want to go into a store and find a record; it's instant gratification.

    "For many products, shopping online is good only if you know what you want," he reasons. "It's generally quicker to buy things in the store -- you can see so much when you're standing in front of a rack, you see hundreds of titles at once, whereas you only see 15 or 20 when you're online."

    Antony Bruno edits the digital entertainment pages for Billboard. He is so much in the digital realm that he doesn't even recognize Solomon's name when asked about him. But he knows Tower.

    "I'm the digital guy, right?" he asks rhetorically. "I'm the guy who says the CD is in its sunset years."

    But even Bruno admits Solomon may do quite well.

    "There's clearly room for good record stores," he says. "There will always be record stores that survive, because they know the area and the people and the music. That said, I wouldn't do it -- but that's because I don't know how."

    Stock to rival Tower's

    R5 Records will rival the old Tower Broadway in its stock. Inside its 6,000 square feet, Solomon plans to carry nearly 50,000 units, as many as 40,000 discrete titles, including some 5,000 classical titles. And, says Solomon, the special orders department will give a run for your money. The store will also carry 15,000 movies on DVD.

    The stores won't be open until midnight every night, but they will be open seven days a week, 365 days a year, just as Tower was. The hours are planned to be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, possibly until 11 p.m. or even midnight on Friday and Saturday.

    Solomon is convinced that, as he says, "All we need to do is the things that made Tower successful."

    And Tower was successful, he says, and not just in its heyday.

    For the fiscal year that ended in June 2006, 76 of their 89 stores were profitable, not counting interest expense and most other corporate costs, according to a filing the company made in U.S. Bankruptcy Court last August.

    Though the initial investment for R5 is coming out of Solomon's pocket, he is looking for investors to expand, eventually into a full record chain.

    "I can't just stay with one store," he says. "I'm not a one-store operator."

    He may be dreaming, but he's dreaming big. And as Ed Christman, retail columnist at Billboard says, "He's got the whole industry pulling for him."

    After all, Christman adds, "Who else, at 81, is going to start a business? He still wants to make it happen."

    Drosins, who's known Solomon for 25 years, and spent most of her professional life working at record labels in New York, says Solomon's not-so-secret strength is his passion.

    "He's still as passionate as he ever was," she says, adding wryly, "a lot heavier and a little less hair, but just as much passion. ... He always looks at the positive, and looks to the future, and that's what keeps him young."

    Move is a challenge

    But why? Why not leave well enough alone? After all, Tower may have died, but while it lived, it changed the music business. These are laurels to be rested upon.

    " 'Cause I don't know any better," Solomon jokes. "But OK, seriously, the business has really changed, and that presents a very interesting challenge. And the truth is, I really don't know how it's going to shake out. ...

    "And that's exciting," he says. "I can't do a lot of the things that I used to be able to do: I can't water-ski, I can't climb a mountain. But this one ... this one I might be able to do."
  2. Mark

    Mark I Am Gort, Hear Me Roar Staff

    God bless him. I hope he does well.....although...
  3. coopmv

    coopmv Newton 1/30/2001 - 8/31/2011

    CT, USA
    Does he still have any credibility after two bankruptcy filings in less than five years followed by Tower liquidation?
  4. Richard Feirstein

    Richard Feirstein New Member

    Albany, NY
    There is a new Tower web site. They have a number of SACD's listed at highly inflated prices.

  5. coopmv

    coopmv Newton 1/30/2001 - 8/31/2011

    CT, USA
    Some forum member claimed that the new Tower website is actually own by
  6. LeeS

    LeeS Blue Note Fan

    I hope he does well and quickly opens up a store in Atlanta. We are really dying here for a store with deep inventory.
  7. coopmv

    coopmv Newton 1/30/2001 - 8/31/2011

    CT, USA
    Why bother with another brick and mortar store? I found the Amazon Marketplace has a pretty deep catalog for classical music, the only genre I listen to these days.
  8. shokhead

    shokhead Forum Resident

    R5=high prices.
  9. coopmv

    coopmv Newton 1/30/2001 - 8/31/2011

    CT, USA
    Then he still has not learned from the failure of his Tower Records. Whoever that is providing the financing ought to have his head examined.
  10. Actually what they need to do is AVOID all the things that Tower screwed up.

    Having said that, I'm glad that my old pal Dale Glover has a job again. At least for now anyway....
  11. Shawn

    Shawn Forum Resident

    I wish him well and really hope this succeeds.
  12. Greg Layton

    Greg Layton Playin' in the Band

    I'm pulling for him too... I now live a half mile down the street from the shell of an old Tower records. I sigh every time I drive past it. It would be wonderful to see it full of music again.
  13. ubsman

    ubsman Active Member

    Maybe he's financing it himself. I think he's pretty well-off.
  14. rck60s

    rck60s Well-Known Member

    Atlanta, Ga, USA
    This is wonderful news...I will do everything within my power as a label person to help him be successful.....
  15. I wish him all the luck in the world, because the world needs more persons like him.
  16. Grant

    Grant A 60s, 70s & 90s Lovin' Musical Free-Spirit

    The man's crazy, but I love 'im! I will support his new store any way I can. I hope he gets a store in Phoenix pronto!

    This is great! Not only do we have Tower being revitalized by it's new owner, but the creator of the old Tower starting a new one that mimics it.

    Solomon may be on to something. Give people a big assortment of product to choose from, and they will come. No DVD rentals. No BS, no extra this, extra that, just music whatever you need to help it along. Perhaps that's the secret to keeping the CD alive. Keep it simple.

    Now, all the record companies have to do is start releasing more product. They can keep downloads for those who want it, but they can make this work. make vinyl available, and they can't lose.
  17. sherrill50

    sherrill50 Forum Resident

    Mukilteo, WA
    I wish Russ the best, and hope for his success. But it's sure hard to be optimistic in the current environment...

    And I don't accept that Tower's downfall, nor it's bankruptcies, were his fault, at least not entirely. Tower was fine while it was a privately owned business. Then he went and let the "suits" in...
  18. gd0

    gd0 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies

    Golden Gate
    Hey, watch the language – this is a family forum.

    I wish him well, but... jeez, how do you compete in a fragmented market, where pricing and convenience rule all.

    Tower was incredible in the 70s and 80s... but there were no viable alternatives... if you wanted music, it was Tower... best combination of stock and prices... anything else was an inconvenient distant second.

    Not so simple anymore.

    Hope RS has a trick up his sleeve... good luck, old man.
  19. Jeff H.

    Jeff H. Well-Known Member

    I certainly do wish Russ much luck with this venture. Hopefully there will be none of the behind the scenes drama and politics that was eventually Tower's undoing. Because once the majority of the people that helped Tower become what it was had left the company, it was only a matter of time before it spiralled downward.

    It would be great to see an R5 store open here in the Bay Area. Supposedly Russ owns the building and property where the Campbell store was.
  20. coopmv

    coopmv Newton 1/30/2001 - 8/31/2011

    CT, USA
    Didn't Tower originally start out in northern CA? I never knew of Tower until a good freind from my area attended Stanford in the early 80's and shortly afterward, Tower expanded to the east coast.
  21. Jeff H.

    Jeff H. Well-Known Member

    Yes Tower started in Sacramento, CA, which is where the first R5 store will be opening. It's going to be in the same building the first Tower store opened in 1961. The second Tower store, and the first store to open in the SF Bay Area was the one at Columbus & Bay in 1968. The third location was the famous Sunset Blvd. store that opened in 1970. The chain remained a California based entity until the 80's and 90's when it started to open stores in other parts of the US and internationally.
  22. rck60s

    rck60s Well-Known Member

    Atlanta, Ga, USA

    Amen to that...We are dying for any kind of record store here in Atlanta...All we have here is For Your Excrement and Best Hand job
  23. Baba O'Riley

    Baba O'Riley New Member

    The Netherlands
  24. joefont

    joefont Forum Resident Thread Starter


    Here's the store's new logo designed by the same guy who designed the original Tower artwork. Hmmm....look familiar? Solomon says that the "R" is for Russ and that "5" is his favorite number.
  25. ubsman

    ubsman Active Member

    If it wasn't for the color scheme it would look like Radio Shack's logo.
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