Sunday 31 January 2016


From 2016: I watched the documentary feature film ALL THINGS MUST PASS last night, charting the creation, rise and fall of the TOWER RECORDS chain.

It's a fascinating story in its own right but also, through the growth and then collapse of one retailer, charts (hohum) the roller coaster growth and then painful contraction of both the music industry and the entertainment emporiums that sold their wares like Tower, Virgin, HMV (hanging in there), Woolworths, Andy's Records, MVC, Music Box, Silver Screen and the once sprawling entertainment departments in retail chains as diverse as WH Smith, Boots the Chemist and Debenhams.

I remember the UK Tower flagship in London's Piccadilly Circus (at one time you could look out the store's front door and see large branches of HMV and Virgin in two directions... all gone now) mostly because it sold CDs you couldn't hope to find in any of the Oxford Street flagships but mostly because it had the most excellent magazine department in the basement.  It carried obscure titles, mostly American, that you would never hope to find anywhere else.  I saw my first copies of NATIONAL ENQUIRER (in the days before it secured UK national distribution), WEEKLY WORLD NEWS (Bat Boy!), ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, BEN IS DEAD (I wish I'd hung onto those... doh!) and countless others there.  

The UK flagship opened in 1985 and was sold to Virgin when Tower retreated from the UK in 2003 (part of their ultimately unsuccessful attempts to save the core business by retreating from their overseas locations).  They promptly closed their megastore across the street (which always felt like little more than a spoiler anyway) and moved into the Tower store. 

After a refit, it traded under the Virgin brand until, clearly sensing the writing was on the wall, Branson sold out to his own management team in 2007.  Now trading under the Zavvi banner, it remained open until the chain collapsed in early 2009.  Their downfall was the collapse of Woolworths and, specifically, Woolies' wholesale entertainment business (dragged down with the stores).  Zavvi found itself unable to secure new stock at favourable terms and, with little to sell, slipped into administration.  HMV purchased some of their former sites but the Piccadily Circus branch closed for good.  

At their UK peak, Tower operated a number of UK stores and I also frequented the West London stores on High Street Kensington (their first UK branch... which also continued trading as Virgin and then Zavvi) and Whiteleys shopping centre.  

1 comment:

  1. Agreed about their mag selection, even my branch here in Dublin had a wonderful range , especially in the late 90's.

    Just off the top of my head, I found in that store WRAPPED IN PLASTIC , STAR WARS GALAXY COLLECTOR, FILM SCORE and RETRO VISION to name but a few.

    Sadly in recent years, that particular store has, to borrow the phrase ' gone to the dogs. ' The mag range had already been substantially and noticeably reduced when they moved premises to the old WATERSTONES store.

    These days, you would be lucky to find a copy of AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER or FANGORIA.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...