Largest Record Store in the World Goes Bankrupt!…

The headlines read: World’s Largest Record Store Goes Bankrupt!

The largest record store in the world, a world-famous landmark building in Tokyo Japan; a store that has been visited by millions of Japanese and is a must-see for visitors to Tokyo from all over the world, Tower Records Shibuya, has gone bankrupt and will soon close shop doors.

Tower Records Japan Flagship store: Shibuya

No, it hasn’t been officially announced. In fact, it hasn’t been announced at all by anyone involved in the management of that company. But it is happening soon. All the signs are there plain as day.

I have worked in the music business in Japan for years. I watched that store – and even worked with Tower Records during its heyday. I even ran huge events at that store! In 1996, I was the first person in the world to organize an Andy Warhol event that placed all 13 of his Mick Jagger works in the same place, on display, for the first time in history. So, I know this business and I know what Tower Records used to be and what it is now.

Tower Records Shibuya is bankrupt. You can be sure that what I have written here is as true as the fact that the sun is sure to rise in the east tomorrow morning; Tower Records Shibuya is closing due to bankruptcy and it is going to happen sooner rather than later.

Using the same very slow listening booth equipment for over a decade

The shopping there isn’t anything like it used to be. Ten years ago, Tower Records Shibuya was a fun shopping experience. Today it is a crap shopping experience and quite unsatisfying. They aren’t going to make it to Christmas of 2011.

I’d like to tell you what I saw when I went to this store yesterday for the first time in a couple of years, …

But first, let me tell you that I do not rejoice, I am saddened – but not surprised – to be breaking the news of the bankruptcy of this Tokyo landmark to you for the first time today. It has been rumored for a while now, and people like me, have been wondering how they were surviving in this world when sales of physical product (albums) have experienced a cataclysmic decline for brick and mortar retailers between the years 2000 and 2009. The New York Times reported:

Total album sales, including CDs and full-album downloads, were 428 million, a 14 percent drop from 2007, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan. Since the industry’s peak in 2000, album sales have declined 45 percent

The other day, HMV Shibuya, the flagship of the HMV stores in Japan, closed its doors forever last week. The Asahi newspaper reported:

Shibuya, a Tokyo district normally associated with the under-20 crowd, attracted hundreds of middle-aged people Sunday to witness the closing of HMV Shibuya, a CD store that became a cultural icon during the 1990s.

Now, it is just a matter of time before the largest record store in the world closes its doors forever. I’d also like to point out that the above article mentions that middle-aged people came to see the store closing… Tower Record’s motto is, “No music, no life.” I think, in this case, it should be, “No teenagers, no business.”

You would have thought that HMV closing would have sent formerly loyal shoppers of HMV Shibuya to Tower Records Shibuya… Well, you would have thought that but when you realize that HMV Shibuya only had six or seven loyal shoppers to begin with (and they were all over 48 years old!) then you’d know that it wouldn’t matter to the world’s largest record store if they came to shop or not.

Only a few shoppers (although an exaggeration) wouldn’t much help the local mom & pop shop stay solvent… They certainly wouldn’t help the world’s largest record shop stay afloat… Especially since any of the toilets in Tower Records Shibuya can hold more than six or seven people.

That is, excepting the men’s toilet on the third floor of Shibuya Tower Records, which has a urinal in disrepair; it is a urinal that, I think, best represents what has happened to Tower Records Shibuya in the last few years; it is falling apart. This urinal is covered with tape and cardboard like something you’d see in a public railway toilet in a third-world country; not Japan. It is a urinal that also smells somewhat like a public railway toilet.

I expect to see urinals broken and left un-repaired in a government run malaise like a public train station. I do not expect to see this sort of thing in a privately-run retail store. The government is expected to take months to take action in repairing damaged items like this. The government is a boondoogle that has no customers. A private company is supposed to worry and be concerned about the “customer’s  experience;” A private company has to make sure the shopper has an enjoyable time inside the store from even before the point of entry to after check-out. That is how retail gets return customers.

I think the owners of that building have a responsibility to fix things like broken toilets to their tenant… Unless, of course, tenant is late on rent payments…

Or, perhaps, I miss the bigger picture? Perhaps today’s Shibuya Tower Records is a faithful representation the falling apart of the Japan economy as a whole?

But, I digress…

Though bankruptcy is not officially announced at Shibuya Tower Records, it is surely being discussed behind closed doors at the company that owns Tower Records Shibuya, Tower Records Japan (TRJ), as I write this blog. Further evidence of this lies in one of the reasons why anyone would ever visit a large record store in the first place; and that is the CD listening booths.

At Tower Records Shibuya, the CD listening booths are all in need of maintenance and headphone replacement.

Some of the headphones were disgusting. Of twenty listening booths I visited and tried, eighteen were quite a bad experience. Eighteen of twenty headphones I tried were bent and you had to hold them on your head with both hands or they didn’t stay on your head at all; they were ratty and falling apart; and many times, even when pressing the tracks to “play” it took more than ten or fifteen seconds – sometimes never – for the tracks to play. Only two of the headphones sets were new and fit well.

Putting on those bent and ratty headphones was like wearing someone else’s dirty socks or brushing with someone else’s toothbrush. Ugh! No thank you. It’s no wonder teenagers don’t go there – like with a toothbrush – with their own iPods, all kids today have their very own headsets.

Most all of them were ripped up like this

Besides these problems; bad toilets, poor listening booths, there were very few customers and of the ones I did see, I didn’t see anyone who looked to be teenagers. No teenagers in CD store!? I even went on a summer vacation Friday, two days after payday, and of the twenty or so customers that I did see, it looked like there was only one guy under 30. The rest looked in their 40′s.

No teenagers? In a CD shop? No, I wasn’t on the classical music floor; I was on the floor that sells Rock and Pop music. I’m sure that, if there were very few customers on the Rock and Pop floor, then the classical music floor must have seemed like a funeral.

To make things even more dismal, coincidentally, Tower Records Shibuya was celebrating their 15th anniversary that day. My, how far the mighty have fallen! I dare say that there won’t be a 20th anniversary… There won’t even be a 17th. Like, I said, I doubt that they can make it to Christmas of 2011.

If you come to Japan soon, visit Tower Records Shibuya to see an old friend before she dies and is gone forever… I’m not asking you to buy anything, just visit… Please just visit! That’s all I ask. Visit and do what everyone else is doing; finding music that they like, writing it down, then ordering it online through iTunes or Amazon. But at least visit and see a relic of the past.

The queen is dead. Long live the queen!

They say at Tower Records in Japan, “No music, no life.” There is music, on the racks, at Tower Shibuya, but there is no life or vibrancy at the store or amongst her staff. What a depressing and quite disenchanting experience.

Tower Records Shibuya is dead and bankrupt… It hasn’t been announced and she hasn’t laid down yet. But she is gone… See her while you can.

(Thanks to my good friend, Keith Cahoon, from me and millions of others, for many fun and great memories of good times in Tokyo).


Keywords: Tower, Tower Records, Tower Records Shibuya, Shibuya, CD, CDs, record, record shop, Shibuya, Tokyo, HMV