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RUSS SOLOMON,
1925-2018

Russ Solomon, the beloved founder of Tower Records who revolutionized music retail from the 1970s through the end of 20th century, died Sunday at his home in Sacramento. He was 92.

Solomon apparently had a heart attack while watching the Academy Awards, his son, Michael Solomon, told the Sacramento Bee.

The son of a pharmacy owner, a teenage Solomon started stocking records in his father’s Tower Drug Store in 1941. From a collection of racks filled with used jukebox records, he built a $1 billion-a-year global business.

His first attempt at Tower Record Mart failed and after returning home from a stint in the Army, he revived the business in the drug store and opened Tower North on Watt Avenue in Sacramento. In 1965, he moved from his drug store to open a second stand-alone store in Sacramento.

“I never had a vision of anything,"Solomon told author Michael Sigman in HITSHistory of the Music Business 2. "You just do things one step at a time and see if it works and you keep improving it. I always liked the idea of having a big variety of stuff. We stocked jazz, country, R&B, a little classical. It all sold."

Inspired by the Sam Goody chain in New York, Solomon opened a third store in San Francisco in 1968 and, two years later, a store on the Sunset Strip that became the record store for the industry, celebrities and music stars. Elton John and Michael Jackson were regular customers; members of countless bands, from Guns N' Roses down, worked there.

 “It took time for the rest of the country to catch up with what was happening in San Francisco, and of course then it began to happen in L.A. and we went down there a couple of years later, which was great for us because the scene was moving there,” he told Sigman.

Tower opened its first New York City location in a barren section of lower Broadway in 1983, and by the mid-1990s, the company had more than 200 stores.

In 1998, after a heart operation, Solomon surrendered the chief executive job to his son Michael. A year later, owing to a heavy debt load that would top $300m, Tower started to close stores, eventually filing for bankruptcy in 2004.

After Tower shuttered, Solomon opened a shop in Sacramento called R5 Records, which he sold to Dimples Records in 2010.

Filmmaker Colin Hanks told the Tower Records story in the 2015 documentary All Things Must Pass that characterized Solomon as rarity in business—a loyal, benevolent and compassionate leader who gave his employees the freedom to create a unique atmosphere at Tower.

The Arizona chain Zia Records tweeted “Russ Solomon was a real one & what he built with Tower Records taught everyone in the record business incalculable lessons. 92 years old. A legendary run.”

“Music was the fundamental criterion for hiring someone,” he told Sigman. “They were all kids and they ran it, not me. What a great job to have—to rummage around and listen to all the great music you want and hang out with your peers. The people behind the counter were the same people shopping for records. They invented merchandising ideas. It wasn’t like the other chains, which had dress codes and rules and somebody gave you a dirty look if you didn’t buy something.

“The people in our stores were engaged in the process of running the stores and were in touch with what was happening in their area. On top of that, we were probably the only ones who stayed open seven days a week till midnight and on holidays. Being open on Christmas Day was great because kids want to get out and spend their Christmas money.”

 

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