I don’t put much stock in lamenting those cultural touchstones that pass with the march of time. Milkmen, Saturday mail service, good manners all seem to have faded with the decades I have spent on earth.
In my nearly 20 years in San Francisco, I have seen a wide variety of retail appear and disappear. I took certain delight when I arrived her in the mid-1990s of there being Woolworth’s which disappeared from the Midwest in the early 1970s, but alas they were gone within a year or more of my arrival.
Then there is the independent record store. While books have seemed to move a linear direction, music seems to have gone a different route. The CD whose dominance lasted barely a quarter of a century never really captured the imagination of the past or the present the way the LP did 40 years ago and then has come full circle, with analog shops and scratchy classics having far more prestige than your Basia CD from 1991.
This morning while parking at SF Scrap (a place that has its share of LPs), I saw a bumper sticker for the Tower Records Project. A noble and interesting project. Tower figured heavily in my life from the 1970s forward Living in the Midwest where we had none of their outlets, these stores were meccas during my trips to either coast when I would come back home with what seemed like suitcases filled with LPs, then CDs, and clunky VHS tapes. When I finally ended up living in Manhattan and later Park Slope, DVDs had yet to arrive, and it was just a matter of filling a backpack every weekend and a couple of times a week.
When we saw our outlets for Tower on Market in the Castro and in North Beach close half a decade ago, I could hardly partake in the close out sales. I got a few Critereon releases at 40% of retail, but it was too painful to pick the bones of what felt like a beloved friend’s grave.
Three years ago when Bow was going through radiation therapy in Davis, I would slip over to the remnants of the original Tower store, by then a ramshackle, disheveled store with lounging cats, I enjoyed picking up obscure LPs of 1970s Italian movie scores and original issues of Miles Davis LPs, scotches and all. Perhaps I’ll contribute to that Tower site, recalling quite a number of critical moments in their various outlets, where the store was both town square and theater.