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Thread: Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records, dies age 92

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    Elite Member Waterslide's Avatar
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    Default Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records, dies age 92

    Founder of Tower Records dies at 92 while drinking whiskey and watching the Oscars


    BY DALE KASLER AND BOB SHALLIT
    dkasler@sacbee.com
    bshallit@sacbee.com

    March 05, 2018 11:33 AM
    Updated 1 hour 46 minutes ago

    Russ Solomon, the music-loving visionary who built a global retailing empire and the most famous company in Sacramento history, died Sunday night. He was 92.


    Solomon was watching the Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night at his Sacramento-area home when he apparently had 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 to refill his whisky," Solomon said. When she returned, he had died.


    Russ Solomon was the founder and guiding force behind Tower Records, the chain that revolutionized music retailing until it was swamped by iPods, big-box stores and other dramatic changes in the industry. Tower went out of business in December 2006 after a second stint in bankruptcy.

    As if to defy the digital forces that reshaped the music business, Solomon opened another music store just a few months later, on the very site of one of Tower’s flagship stores in Sacramento. But the encore fell flat, and he gave up after three years. Nonetheless, Solomon enjoyed a redemption of sorts as the star of “All Things Must Pass,” a poignant documentary on Tower’s history produced by actor and former Sacramentan Colin Hanks. The movie debuted in March 2015.


    Late in life, Solomon was honored in other ways he was inducted into the California Hall of Fame and two area entrepreneurs made plans to open a Jewish deli in his name on the site of an old Tower store in downtown Sacramento.


    A pioneer who was admired by employees and competitors alike, Solomon made Tower a $1 billion-a-year business stretching from Boston to Bogota. He operated on a philosophy that was obvious to him but extraordinary for its day: Build big stores and pack them with as much music as possible.


    Rival chains sprung up, borrowing heavily from Solomon’s notion that “big was beautiful,” said Glen Ward, former head of the Virgin record stores in North America. “He was probably the inventor of the mega-store.”


    But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tower was overwhelmed by big-box discounters, Amazon.com and digital downloading. The company also over-expanded and was partly to blame for its downfall.


    “We borrowed too much money,” Solomon said years later. “It was unsustainable.”


    Russell M. Solomon’s story was a Sacramento legend: In 1941, the 16-year-old began selling used jukebox records at his father Clayton Solomon’s drug store in the Tower Theater building at the corner of Broadway and Land Park Drive. He called the business Tower Record Mart.


    Tower soon had its own street entrance. Later came listening booths for previewing new records. Solomon opened a wholesale business, too.


    Nothing stopped him - not a two-year Army hitch during World War II, or the failure of the company in October 1960. He quickly borrowed $5,000 and persuaded creditors to supply him with new inventory.


    “He went right back to the same guys, the same creditors who put him out of business,” said Dick Harris, an early employee. “It was the power of personality.”


    Solomon incorporated the new business weeks later as MTS Inc., after his son Michael Toby Solomon, and music fans resumed their trek to the Broadway drug store.

    Soon after, Solomon opened Tower North on Watt Avenue, his first stand-alone store. (It wasn’t until 1965 that the original location, in dad’s drug store, moved into its own building across the street).

    What Tower achieved was a sensation. Until the 1960s, there weren’t many record stores outside of the Sam Goody chain in New York. Music was sold mostly in the remote corners of department stores. Inspired in part by dad’s drug store, which sold a wide variety of goods, Solomon offered music fans a veritable feast, with generous helpings of the offbeat and obscure. Word soon went out: Tower sold records you couldn’t find anywhere else.


    It was a Sacramento-only phenomenon. Then, one morning in 1968, nursing a hangover at a diner in San Francisco, he looked up from his breakfast and spied what he called a “vacant, derelict building” near Fisherman’s Wharf. He quickly rented it. The store opened just as the golden age of San Francisco rock was peaking.


    “The whole Fillmore scene was going, the whole music scene was going, the whole dope scene was going,” he said years later.


    Sunset Strip in West Hollywood followed in 1970, and became a magnet for rock stars and industry executives. Mick Jagger dropped by; Elton John was practically a regular.


    A decade later came the first overseas store, in Tokyo. By the mid-’90s the company had $1 billion in annual sales and more than 200 stores.


    In 1990, at age 65, Solomon came in at No. 335 on Forbes’ famous list of the 400 richest Americans. The magazine pegged his wealth of $310 million. “Is that all?” he quipped to a reporter.


    Tower headquarters in West Sacramento’s warehouse district was plain on the outside but bursting with color on the inside, emblematic of Solomon’s love of art. (Tower owned an art gallery).


    The headquarters artwork included hundreds of neckties confiscated by Solomon from any visitor silly enough to wear one in his presence, then tagged with the offender’s business card and placed in a glass display. He took the ties with him after Tower folded.


    “He gave people a lot of freedom,” said longtime Tower executive Stan Goman. “Did he care what time people came to work? No – he had no idea.”


    Dave Fouche, an employee during the 1960s, said Solomon “liked to have a good time and came across as loose…but he knew where his i’s were dotted and his t’s were crossed when it came to business.”


    Solomon loved new stores. When a grand opening in Austin, Texas, ran overtime, he reportedly told an underling, “Just keep the booze going.”


    He rarely gave interviews, saying, “I hate personal publicity.” But when the self-described “aging hippie” did talk to the press, he exuded a swashbuckling spirit. Like the time in 1990 when he opened a Tower Books in ultra-competitive Manhattan.

    “I figured it was a pixie, chancy thing to do,” he told the Wall Street Journal at the time. “But I always wanted my stores in big cities.”

    After undergoing open-heart surgery, Solomon in 1998 surrendered the chief executive job to his son Michael, who’d been Tower’s general counsel. The elder Solomon remained board chairman.

    By that point, music retailing was undergoing a major revolution. The Solomons were slow to react, and it possibly hastened Tower’s downfall.


    It was a perfect storm: competition from big-box stores, Amazon, the major bookstore chains. College kids gleefully downloaded music for free on the rogue website Napster.


    Tower had a website, too, but its heart was in brick-and-mortar. It kept opening new stores, in the U.S.and overseas. The Internet “is certainly never going to take the place of stores,” Solomon told The Bee in 2000.


    In a rare public appearance in 2010, at a Sacramento bookstore speakers series, he acknowledged his errors.


    If not for its heavy debt load – more than $300 million at one point – he said Tower would have survived. He added that the digital downloading phenomenon spread more quickly than he imagined.


    By 1999 Tower was losing money. It began closing stores, and sold its profitable Japanese locations to raise cash. At the banks’ insistence, Michael Solomon was replaced as CEO by a consultant, the first outsider to run Tower.


    The company filed for bankruptcy in 2004. It survived, but the Solomon family was left with just a 15 percent ownership stake. Creditors gobbled the rest, in exchange for canceling millions in debt. Russ Solomon got a seat on the board and the title “chairman emeritus.”


    After a brief revival, sales headed south again. The last straw was the fierce competition from Apple’s iTunes service, and Tower made its second bankruptcy filing in 2006.


    There was no reprieve this time. Following a 30-hour auction at a Delaware law office, a liquidator bought Tower’s assets.


    Within minutes, Solomon had his assistant fire off an e-mail to employees: “The fat lady has sung….She was off-key. Thank you, Thank you, Thank You.” The going-out-of-business sales began the next morning.


    Six months later, Solomon was at it again. Working in partnership with his second wife Patti Drosins, he opened a single shop called R5 Records, at the old location on Broadway. The name came from his first initial and his favorite number.


    “You may be crazy but you do it anyway,” he once said, explaining his decision to go back into business. “It’s a little like a painter that gets to retirement age and doesn’t retire.”


    Solomon was trying “to prove to the world he was right,” Goman said. “He never lost vision.”

    But even Solomon saw the struggle of running a record store in an era dominated by Wal-Mart and the Web. He told a Sacramento audience in early 2010, “Maybe I’m believing in something that’s drifting away.”

    A few months later, he sold out to Dimple Records, a small Sacramento chain that shares some of Solomon’s feistiness and irreverence.


    Over the past few years, Solomon remained busy doing portrait photography and had several exhibitions, including one recently at the Kondos Gallery at Sacramento City College. He did a photo session with a client just a week ago, said Michael Solomon.


    "He was basically quite healthy. This was unexpected." he said.


    His son said Solomon will be remembered as a "charismatic, common-sense entrepreneur" who engendered the love of all who worked for him.


    "He was sort of a Pied Piper," he said. "People followed him and adored him.. They wanted to do what he wanted."


    No funeral or memorial is planned, Michael Solomon said. Instead, family will hold a large private party for his myriad friends.

    Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records, dies in Sacramento at 92 | The Sacramento Bee



    Died complaining about what someone was wearing at the Oscars and drinking whiskey. Oh God, this does hit too close to home. RIP Mr. Solomon.
    "AND WHEN YOU BECAME DENISE, I TOLD ALL YOUR COLLEAGUES, THOSE CLOWN COMICS, TO FIX THEIR HEARTS OR DIE."

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    Elite Member greysfang's Avatar
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    My best friend and I practically lived at Tower back in the day. RIP.
    FUCK YOU AND GIVE ME MY GODDAMN VENTI TWO PUMP LIGHT WHIP MOCHA YOU COCKSUCKING WHORE BEFORE I PUNCH YOU IN THE MOUTH. I just get unpleasant in my car. - Deej

    http://www.gossiprocks.com/forum/signaturepics/sigpic4098_9.gif Healthy is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

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