Is Tower about to topple?

Tower Records was born in 1960 in Sacramento to Russ Solomon, a man with a vinyl dream. It didn’t take long for Solomon to plant his seed of sound all over the country—and beyond.

Chico’s store took root in 1973—the year Paul McCartney and Wings released “Live and Let Die” and KISS first performed live. Back then, the local store occupied only one-half of what it calls home today.

“When I first walked through these doors I was looking for Hotel California,” said Lynn Brown, with a laugh. He was hired in 1976, and within a year he was manager—a title he still holds.

“It’ll be 30 years Dec. 23,” Brown said. “I’m partying, baby.”

Can’t party too hard these days, though.

At the end of July, Tower (the corporation, not the local store) named a new chief executive—its third in four years—and announced it’s up for sale. And at the beginning of this month, the company stopped paying its bills. As a result, the four major music companies—Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, EMI Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment—cut the music chain off. That means no new music shipments from these guys.

But don’t get too worried, Brown assured. There’s still new music to be found at Chico’s store—it’s being bought COD. He is also optimistic that the whole thing will blow over.

This is all reminiscent of events of three years ago, when Tower’s financial situation was less than bleak after taking blows from other music outlets like Wal-Mart and the Internet. But at that time, the industry and major labels came to Tower’s aid, and when the company declared bankruptcy in 2004, it reemerged with bondholders owning the majority and much of its debt being wiped out. Things are different this time around.

An article in the Sacramento Bee on Aug. 7 ("Tower’s music clout has gone flat") reported that the company could go into liquidation as the product supply runs dry, especially with the holiday shopping season just around the corner. Tower officials have not released any comments.

The article also stated, “As music is more and more a creature of big-box discounters and the Internet, traditional retailers like Tower matter less and less.”

But to downtown Chico, Tower is an institution. An anchor.

“I spend a lot of money here,” said Jody Nixon, a student who recently walked out of Tower holding five new CDs. “It has the biggest selection of independent music. If it closed, I don’t know what I would do—I guess I would buy off the Internet.”

Why does she choose Tower over the Internet now? “Because I like the store. I like the people,” she said. “It’s expensive, but it’s not too bad.”

Chico’s Tower has undergone a number of transformations over the years. In the early 1980s, Tower Books emerged, and in 1985, after hearing that the store next door was closing, Brown secured the space for expansion. Tower Books did well for years but closed in 2001, blaming the Internet and Barnes & Noble for slow sales. The shop was turned into a used-record store, with a stage for live acts.

Another local haunt, Sundance Records, which specialized in used records, closed up shop almost immediately because of the added competition.

Sergio Bunstock, a clerk at the Underground music store in downtown Chico, said he wouldn’t mind if Tower shut its doors.

“It would suck to see them go out of business,” he said. “But it would be cool for the little guy.”

But Brown doesn’t think of his store as any different from others like the Underground.

“I’ve always thought of us as a local store even though we’re corporate,” he said. He added a final dose of confidence: “We’ve been here since 1973 and we will remain.”