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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2006/11/18
by Mike Gruenberg

Tower Records

In My Life
October was a tough month for me. Three aspects of my life were changed forever due to events that occurred that were beyond my control during that fateful month. Hard to believe that within the span of a few weeks, my world was significantly altered. Having the ability to now look back at those events, I am still somewhat upset but time has the power to heal and that process has begun. If we learn anything as we begin to experience our later years, it is that nothing stays the same. We change chronologically every day and for most of us, as we add years to our lives, we change physically, as well. Our environment will most certainly change and if we listen to Al Gore we better figure out how to manage that change sooner rather than later. Older neighborhoods change with the addition of new structures, and we call that urban renewal. Our friends may move away and in their place, new neighbors and possible friends move in who may or may not be as nice as the ones that left. Change is all around us. Most people are adverse to change. In the end, the only person who truly likes change is a wet baby. My tale of woe is all about coping and understanding change.
Approximately a year ago, my wife called me from her office to tell me that a colleague of hers was inquiring as to anyone who might want to give a home to a dog that needed to be rescued. The story she told involved a single man who had been renting a basement apartment in the house of my wifes friend. The man lived there for many years with a lovable dog. Apparently, when this gentleman went on vacation, he tragically died leaving the dog without an owner. The dog spent a number of lonely days and nights waiting for her owner who never came home. The dog was made homeless by her owners death and without a family to adopt her; she would have wound up in the doggy graveyard. Against my better judgment, we took the dog and by doing so saved her life. In return for taking her in, she gave us love, loyalty and many happy times. Sadly, her time with us was limited to just over a year. We discovered in September that she had cancer and that her time with us would be brief due to the seriousness of her illness. It was all too short a time for us to be together. Last month, we chose to end her suffering. Things change.
Approximately eight years ago I met a wonderful woman with whom I have been married to for over six years. From the first day I met her family, they made me feel like I had known them forever. Of course, for every prospective new husband, the first meeting with the mother-in-law can be a daunting experience. Much like her family, on the day I met her, my then future mother-in-law made me feel welcome and loved. Over the years I knew her, we spoke about many things. We shared our experiences and had a mutual respect and love for one another. I always looked forward to our visits with her even though we would have to drive a significant distance to see her in central New Jersey from our home on Long Island. Some of those trips occasionally became less than pleasant while navigating the crowded highways of New York and New Jersey. Once we got there however, it was great to share a meal, tell a story or two and share some every special time with her and the family. In October, after suffering a broken hip in August, a mild heart attack in September and a massive stroke in October, my mother-in-law passed away. Her three daughters, three sons-in-law, six grandchildren and countless friends will miss her, but we are all far better off for having had her in our lives. Yes, lives change too.
Change does not only involve the passage and entrance of people in and out of our everyday lives. A business must consistently adapt to the pressures of the marketplace if it is to survive. In the ever changing business world, a company that is operating the way it has operated six months prior is probably on a downward trend that will eventually lead to some difficult decisions. Success is fleeting. Technology is advancing. A successful business must understand and embrace change.
One of the great joys of collecting music for me over these many years has been the process of rummaging through the bins of records at many a record store. Rifling through dusty bins of used LPs and 45s was always and continues to be special part of my life. Over the years, I was always able to find that elusive record in the record store with the best vinyl and used CDs. I have been to many a store in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. and have the records to prove it. My preference of a store was always confined to the small independent record store. In the early 70s, I heard about Tower Records based in California and was intrigued by the possibilities.
Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower began this venture by selling records out of his fathers drug store in Sacramento in the 1940s. At the time, there were few, if any record stores in Sacramento. By 1960, he opened his first store in Sacramento and in 1968 expanded to open another store in San Francisco. The rest, as we say was history. By the mid 1990s sales at Tower Records exceeded $1 billion with more than 200 stores world-wide and profits were strong.
I had two favorite Tower Records stores. The first was the one located at Piccadilly Circus in London and the other was the one in L.A. located on the Sunset Strip. It always seemed that the music tabloids spoke about the rock stars of the day that were spotted at the L.A. store. I must admit that I went there quite a few times hoping to catch a glimpse of any rock hero. The result of all my visits to the L.A. store was a yellow bag full of music and no rock stars anywhere in sight. On one of those visits, the attendant said to me, you just missed Neil Young. Sure! At the Tower Records in London, located at Piccadilly Circus, the jazz collection was second to none. The store, conveniently located near my favorite hotel provided me with great comfort while traveling away from home. The lure of Tower was their ability to not only carry mainstream music of all genres, but to also carry the artists that were out of the mainstream.

So what caused Tower to go belly up? The answer my friend was their inability to understand and cope with change. They were done in by not understanding or adapting to the new music buying reality which is now comprised of downloading and discount stores. Tower could not compete with the internet. Instead of understanding the implications of people downloading music, Tower chose to ignore this reality and in the face of this challenge, opened more stores instead of consolidating their current properties and embracing the new technology. Tower also could not compete with the new competition of store like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Borders. Not adapting to change caused Tower to collapse.
In the final analysis, we are defined by our ability to survive adversity. My dog is gone and I have shed my tears for her and know she is at rest and her spirit lives with me forever. I have mourned the passing of my wifes mother who is no longer with us and yet I am a better person for having known her which makes it ok for me. Her spirit will also live within us. I am sad that Tower will fade away, but I am grateful for the many hours spent there and the great music they provided. Change marches on.

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