Sundance Records follows Tower Books into the local business history bin
Less than two weeks after word came that longtime downtown Chico business Tower Books was closing, a second, even older establishment has followed suit, citing some of the same reasons for its demise.
Sundance Records, which opened in 1969 on Main Street, will shut the doors of its present-day Broadway location for good at the end of April, say owners Scott and Rhonda Swanson.
Like Sheryl Cummings, manager of Tower Books, who blames that store’s closure on the presence of Barnes & Noble and the convenience of buying via the Internet, Scott Swanson also points to major corporate competition and the availability of new technology—Napster online and home CD burners—for playing a major role in his decision to close.
In a statement announcing the closure, Swanson said, “The continued arrival of big corporate competitors with such buying power that they can sell CDs for less than we can buy them has now made it impossible to compete. Our ever-shrinking slice of the pie won’t sustain us anymore.”
The Swansons bought the store in 1989 from Les Lund, who had taken over in the early 1970s when it was still located on Main Street close to where The Bookstore (also known as Ron’s) now resides. Lund moved the store to Second Street, where the Naked Lounge currently reclines. In 1974 Lund began selling used records and later CDs, and today, Swanson said, used CDs outsell new ones.
Lund moved the store one last time in the early ‘80s to its present location at 218 Broadway.
Swanson said he felt the beginning of the end as far back seven years ago, when Wal-Mart first settled in southeast Chico.
“When Wal-Mart opened [in 1994], I could see an immediate drop in CD sales,” he said. “They sold CDs at cost and below—they were throwaway items. Target and Kmart had to lower their prices, too. Then Circuit City moves in and sells below what I could buy them for.”
Things got worse, Swanson said, when he learned that another big-box retailer—Best Buy—would be built across from Winco off Forest Avenue in southeast Chico.
Besides the retail competition, he said, the existence of Napster and other easy-to-download music sites on the Internet, along with the availability of inexpensive technology that allows people to “burn” their own CDs, also cut into Sundance’s sales.
Then, when Tower Records said it was expanding to fill the void left by Tower Books, Swanson said he pretty much saw the writing on the wall.
“Selling used CDs was our last little niche,” he said. “Then when Tower Records announced that it was going to start selling used CDs, and with our lease up, we decided it was time.”
The store, he said, was never unprofitable in the time he and Rhonda ran the business, even as late as last year.
Jeff Dow, part-owner of Sierra Stationers, which has occupied the spot next to Sundance since the 1930s, said it was unfortunate the store was closing.
“They’ve been such a good store and good neighbors for years,” Dow said. “Everybody is going to experience a big loss with this. The question is, what’s going to move in?”
Swanson said he normally employed six to seven employees and spent a great deal of time behind the counter himself.
“That’s one of the great things about independent stores,” he said. “I practically lived here. Without independents, profits don’t stay in town; they don’t buy local supplies from other local independents. But you can’t fight corporate America. Not all independents will go out, but a lot them will.”
A storewide clearance begins March 16, Swanson said. Store fixtures and supplies will also be up for sale.
“By the end of April," he said, "we’ll be done."