Russ Solomon, who founded Tower Records, died last night while watching the Oscars. He was 92.
“Ironically, he was giving his opinion of what someone was wearing that he thought was ugly, then asked [his wife] Patti to to refill his whisky,” his son, Michael, told the Sacramento Bee. As she obliged, he suffered a heart attack and died instantly.
Born in Sacramento in 1925, Solomon got his start at the age of 16, selling used jukebox records in his father’s drug store, which was located in the Tower Theater Building. Nine years later, after serving in the Army during World War II, he opened up a wholesale record business across the street. It went out of business in 1960, but Solomon quickly opened up a new shop in a different location, and it proved to be a success.
He expanded to San Francisco in 1968, opening near Fisherman’s Wharf at the very moment the city was becoming a focal point for American rock. “It was right at the point of the flower children, that whole acid-rock kind of thing,” he told the Los Angeles Times. From there, it was on to the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, where it soon became arguably the most famous record store in America.
Over the next few decades, Tower stores opened in major cities around the world, gaining a reputation for their massive selection. At its peak, it had more than 200 stores and annual sales of $1 billion. But the rise of the internet hurt brick-and-mortar stores, both through e-commerce and illegal file-sharing, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and was liquidated two years later.