Russ Solomon, 1925–2018
The entrepreneur who founded Tower Records
Before the 1960s, record shops were a rarity. Music was sold mostly at department stores, with a small selection of LPs and 45s tucked away in a corner. Russ Solomon changed that. With Tower Records, which during its peak in the 1990s was a billion-dollar business, Solomon pioneered the concept of music megastores—shops the size of football fields, filled with tens of thousands of titles from every genre and artist imaginable. The stores stayed open till midnight, and the music-loving staffers were encouraged to order the inventory themselves. “We wanted people in the store to run the store,” Solomon explained. “You can’t make decisions on what to do in Phoenix if you’re sitting in New York or London.”
Born in San Francisco, Solomon was 16 when he started “selling used jukebox records” at his father’s drugstore in Sacramento, said The Sacramento Bee. The booming business soon “had its own street entrance,” and Solomon opened his first stand-alone store in the city in 1960. He expanded with outlets in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and his passionate customer base would grow to include rock stars such as Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. By the 1990s, Tower had nearly 200 stores in the U.S. and 14 other countries, selling videos and books as well as music.
Solomon’s unquenchable ambition ultimately “contributed to his undoing,” said The Washington Post. Saddled with debt from the company’s global expansion, and unable to compete with discount chains and pirated downloads, Tower filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and went out of business two years later. “The fat lady has sung,” Solomon wrote to employees. “She was off-key. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.”