Swan Song for Record Store

Hip-hop artist Michael J. Mure ’09 could lose $132—and Harvard Square will almost certainly lose a longtime landmark—when the Tower Records music store on Mt. Auburn Street closes this winter.

The store has sold two dozen of Mure’s CDs over the past six months, and he was expecting payment in September. But in August, Tower declared bankruptcy for the third time in its 46-year history. And on Saturday, a liquidation company, the Great American Group, bought Tower off the auction block.

“Everything from inflation to people using computers to sharing music more” led to the company’s downfall, said the Harvard Square store’s supervisor, Darien G. Valentine.

But it was the Great American Group that drove the last nail in Tower’s coffin.

The Los Angeles-based liquidation firm’s $134.3 million bid bested an offer by Trans World Entertainment, which wanted to keep some of the chain’s branches in business.

“It’s genuinely very sad and tragic,” Valentine said. The store’s Harvard Square branch opened exactly 15 years ago to the date—Oct. 12, 1991—according to a Crimson article at the time.

“Now there are going to be large parts of America that are going to be totally cut off from purchasing classical music,” Valentine said.

He added that the store filled a unique niche in Cambridge with its specialty sections on the second floor, including classical, jazz, and foreign music.

“There is nowhere else where you can get these things,” he said, emphasizing the lack of classical music in other stores. In a plea to his competitors, Valentine added, “we can only hope that, now that we are gone, they can take over.”

Taking notice, nearby Newbury Comics, which began more than a quarter-century ago as a comic specialty store but has since expanded to music, is revamping its CD inventory. “We’ve been beefing up the classical sections in store and increasing the density of our music selection so that we do have more product,” said Newbury’s chief operating officer, Duncan H. Browne, whose 26-store chain includes a location on JFK Street just steps away from Tower.

Tower, in expectation of its closing, has slashed prices on CDs, books, and magazines at its Harvard Square location. Valentine estimated that the store will close within the next two months, depending on the actions of the Great American Group.

“We don’t know what they are planning yet,” he said. “It’s ultimately up to them.”

And Mure’s $132 check hangs in the balance.

“I am bummed out,” Mure said of the store’s demise.

Great American will decide on the state of Tower’s unpaid debts. Contractors like Mure are still waiting on payment for merchandise sold during the past few months.

Although Tower no longer has control of its finances, it has invited its consignment contractors to pick up their unsold CDs.

Through Tower’s consignment arrangement, John T. Drake ’06—who is also Harvard College’s campus life fellow, or “fun czar”—sold CDs recorded by his rock band, The Blanks. Over the last week, he has collected the remaining Blanks CDs from the store.

“Tower Records was the only store willing to take the Blanks,” Drake said. “They were a surprisingly friendly and cool company, even under the umbrella of a larger chain.” Tower maintained nearly 90 outlets worldwide.

Tower’s onetime competitors aren’t cheering the behemoth’s fall. “We were surprised and disappointed,” said Newbury’s Browne.

“There will be some relatively small increases in a couple of our stores...But overall we think it does more harm than good,” said Browne. “It diminishes the general excitement in the community about music.”

—Staff writer Lindsay A. Maizel can be reached at

—Staff writer Shifra B. Mincer can be reached at

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