The Ill-Fated History of Tower Records in Kansas City
Tower Records came very close to establishing a major presence in Kansas City. Here’s the story.
In the late ‘80s I toiled for a troubled independent record label distribution business. Hal, the company's owner, was frantically trying to find a buyer.
The most interested party was Tower Records. They realized that operating a centrally-located distribution company would give them a tremendous competitive advantage. The storied California-based retail chain was renowned for stocking deep inventory on even the most esoteric titles. Owning a distribution company with top independent labels like Alligator, Rounder and SST would greatly enhance Tower’s ability to make additional margin on titles by the likes of Albert Collins and Husker Du.
Stan, Tower’s CEO, visited Kansas City after he struck a preliminary deal with Hal. Because I was Hal's flunky, I squired Stan around town. Stan liked what he saw and was clearly excited about the possibility of owning a distribution company.
"We’ll have to open a store in Kansas City," he declared one afternoon. Stan grilled me about the area’s demographics and neighborhoods. Although Tower stores were "destinations," Stan wanted the store to be located near the hub of the gay, student, downtown and nightlife populations. Stan decided that the ideal spot for a Tower store was on Main Street between 30th and 40th. This building is one of three that Stan targeted.
Hal, Stan and I unveiled Tower’s plan to buy our distribution company at an industry convention soon after Stan’s trip to Kansas City. The labels revolted. They professed shock at the very concept of effectively selling directly to the retail giant. The deal was nixed, and with it, the idea of a Tower store in Kansas City died.
There’s no doubt that a Tower location in Kansas City, along with a healthy distribution company, would have been an enormous asset to the city’s music and business communities. The presence of a Tower store would have brought more touring acts to Kansas City and local artists would have enjoyed a much stronger foundation.
Even so, none of this would likely have prevented Tower’s final bankruptcy this week.