RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Tower Records store on Keeaumoku Street, shown here, closed yesterday for the last time along with the store at Kahala Mall. A store at Pearl Kai closed Saturday. CLICK FOR LARGE
Tower Records sounds final note
Shoppers scoop up last-minute bargains as three stores close
Cradling an armful of compact discs at Tower Records on Keeaumoku Street yesterday, shopper Joanne Amende described how the popular store was a hangout for her when she was 12 years old while growing up in Chicago.
"This is a piece of my history gone. That's how I look at it," Amende, now 39, said.
At that time, Tower was one of the few places that had punk music, she said. "You couldn't find that kind of music anywhere. Tower had it."
Known for its broad selection of music from indie and punk to rock and pop, Tower Records' stores on Keeaumoku Street and Kahala Mall shut its doors yesterday as part of a nationwide closure. Tower Records' in Pearl Kai, the third on Oahu, shut down Saturday.
Walgreen Co., a major drugstore chain in the U.S., has expressed interest in opening a store at the Keeaumoku Street site.
Many shoppers took advantage of the closeout sale at Tower Records at Keeaumoku Street and Kahala Mall yesterday, with remaining CDs available at only 99 cents each. But there wasn't much left. Most shelves at both sites were empty as some shoppers filled their baskets with CDs and DVDs.
Music downloads from the Internet and big box retailers such as Wal-Mart, Circuit City and Best Buy that offer CDs at low prices contributed to the demise of Tower Records in the United States, according to some employees.
In October, Great American Group purchased the 89-music store chain following bankruptcy filings from Tower Records. A representative of Great American declined comment.
Nevertheless, the music store will continue to operate at franchised sites in several countries overseas, including Japan, where Tower Records thrives.
Shopper Kelly Nakasone said it was just a matter of time before Tower Records would be impacted by music downloads such as iTunes. "It's inevitable," Nakasone said. "It's easy to plug in an iPod and listen to a song for a buck."
Some store employees described Tower Records as an "icon of the music industry."
But with the combination of technology and a drop in computer prices in the mid-1990s, music lovers began to download music, a sign that a decline in store-bought CDs was eminent.
Some loyal customers continued to shop at Tower Records, knowing they would be able to find catalogue items at the chain store.
Flipping through rows of CDs, Makiki resident Celeste Vallentyne said Tower Records was the only retailer where she could find indie and underground music. Vallentyne, 26, said she spent about $200 on CDs at the Keeaumoku Street store within the last few days.
Cashier Shelley Kim, 19, said, "When we first found out that the store was closing, I thought I was going to cry."
What Kim will miss most, she said, is the chain's signature red-and-yellow sign displayed outside of the building.
"It will be hard to see that sign go," she said.
"It's an end of an era," said Eric Ripley, store manager of the Kahala store.
Ripley, who worked at Tower Records since he moved to Hawaii from San Francisco in 1993, said, "It's sad to see it come to an end."