Volume 76, Number 21 | October 11 - 17, 2006

Villager photo by Clayton Patterson

Lower East Side filmmaker Larry Fessenden was looking for DVD’s at Tower Records’ liquidation sale on Tuesday night. Fessenden’s 1997 “Habit” is described by the online Internet Movie Database as “the best vampire movie in a long time.”

Video killed radio star; iPod killed Tower Records

By Lori Haught

Everything must go.

In two months, Tower Records on the corner of Broadway and E. Fourth St., will be gone as well.

“They were one of the first stores in the neighborhood,” said Harriet Fields, director of the Noho New York Business Improvement District. “It was a surprise” to learn that Tower Records was going out of business, she said.

Fields said that, since opening in 1983, Tower Records has been a mainstay on Broadway and had been constantly involved with the community fairs and projects, even before there was a BID.

“One year, they put a band in and had a stage on Broadway and the noise was so loud you could hear it in Brooklyn,” she said.

The store has shown an affinity for being like a small-town business over the years, despite the fact that Tower is part of a major chain.

“They were fabulous for Broadway,” Fields said. “I remember one winter when there was just nothing on Broadway and it was freezing and I ran in there and the music was so good. I’m sorry to see them go.”

The Tower Video and Books store on Lafayette and E. Fourth Sts. will also be closing.

All 89 Tower Records and Video stores around the country will be closing. Their parent company, MTS Inc., began their debt restructuring after filing for Chapter 11 in May 2003. Tower was forced to file for bankruptcy independently in February 2004. Music downloading — both legal and illegal — is being called a major factor in the chain’s financial difficulties.

The chain has been sold to a liquidator, who in the words of Tower employee Jessica Wider, is slowly milking every last bit of money out of the store before it closes the doors.

Wider, who had only been working at the E. Fourth St. Tower store for about two weeks when she was told it would be closing, is getting ready to look for another job.

“I’m crazy enough to go find another job at a record store; it’s what I do,” she said. “I worked at Virgin, then here.”

East Village activist John Penley, who sometimes spins records under the name D.J. Loco, is sorry to see Tower go too.

“It was a lot less commercial than Virgin, and I think that’s going to be missed,” he said. “If you were looking for something off the wall or in the indie scene, you could find it at Tower.”

Penley is also worried about the smaller bands and publications that used Tower as one of their few national distributors; for some it was their only distributor. CD’s by upcoming bands and underground publications could be found more easily in Tower than in some smaller locally owned shops.

Penley’s roommate Seth Tobocman has part ownership of and collaborates on World War III, an alternative and radical comic book series. The comic was started in 1979 to speak out against the Reagan administration and has stayed strong in recent years. Tower was the only major mainstream distributor they had.

“The people who were likely to see this magazine in Tower were not likely to buy this elsewhere,” he said.

While Tobocman is unsure how the closing will affect the sales of his last shipment of World War III to Tower, he’s fairly sure that Tower won’t let him down and that they’ll get their profits.

“It’s been a dependable place to distribute our magazine since 1983,” he said. “I hope they do all right. They’ve done all right by us.”

Lower East Side documentarian Clayton Patterson echoed Penley and Tobocman’s sentiments.

“They really did a service,” he said of Tower. “They used to sell my fanzine — I used to do a thing called Tattoo Gazette…. I ran into Chris Flash coming out of there tonight, and he said they sold The Shadow [the East Village anarchist newspaper Flash publishes]. It’s more than just a record store; it’s a phenomenal service.”

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