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Dawn Reed has worked at the Tysons Corner Tower Records outlet for three years, specializing in the Punk/Emo section. Music’s been her life since buying Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 as a kid, and she’s always been loyal to Tower. That means she doesn’t shop at the competition. But a few weeks ago, she tried.
“I went to Best Buy,” Reed, 25, admits. “It was just too hard. I always bought stuff from here. I couldn’t do it.”
Reed left the Best Buy empty-handed. And by the end of this Thursday, Dec. 21, she will walk out of Tower for the last time. But she won’t leave without friendships and “too many memories.” Her most recent one is relaxing the store’s customer-is-always-right policy. A guy had badgered her to let him buy an opened CD for 10 cents. The 80 percent discount wasn’t enough. Finally, she says, she turned and screamed: “Fuck you! And fuck your face, too!”
Now there’s no one to scream at. Nor anyone to recommend that rare Ex album to. Reed is left to ring up the citizen liquidators, the ones eyeing the fixtures and buying in bulk. People purchase stacks of CD singles by the basket. One customer asks to buy the basket. A salesman just gives it away.
The music nerds, the regulars, are gone. (This week’s cover story, out tomorrow, documents the Tower regulars.)
The final hour starts at 4 p.m.
Over the store loudspeaker, a Tower manager makes one second-to-last pitch for what was left of his store: “So if you see an album with a pretty cover…”
The Tysons Tower had been shedding itself for weeks. Now it was down to the last of the last, albums for 50 cents apiece. The once gargantuan metal section now resembles a shitty Wednesday night bill at Jaxx. The jazz section has been reduced to a shitty Wednesday night bill at Wolf Trap. The lights are on in the classical section, but its racks are empty. The items no one touches-not even at 50 cents-are the Joe Montana motivational DVDs. There are tons of them. They overwhelm everything else. It’s depressing. I have spent serious time into this place and nothing has haunted me more than Joe Montana’s The Winning Spirit. Not even the rubber bondage films in the porn section.
Employees rip down displays, the going-out-of-business posters, the signs that read “All sales final No Returns No Exchanges.”
Tower’s real liquidator, Don, hovers over the dismantling, trying to deal away the furniture—the CD displays, the metal racks, anything not nailed down. Mostly though, he stands by the entrance smiling as the place empties out. “Great staff,” he says. “I’ve had liquidations that were worse. This one is a blessing. Good kids. Hopefully they find jobs.”
At 4:40 p.m., the manager puts on an album by the Ordinary Boys. It’s a total Clash rip-off. But the store is out of any Clash records. The CD is promptly sold.
With eight minutes to go, a customer buys the Erase Errata remix record. Former employees gather around the bank of dead cash registers. The store’s shop vac is put on sale for $10.
There are only a half-dozen customers left: a mother and son who end up purchasing 206 items to sell on eBay, a father picking out oddities for his music-nerd son, another kid begging for the “metal” signs and dirty power strip. After the lights are turned off, two employees fight over who will get the honor of being the last customer. Later, there will be a toast. It will be quick and in the dark.
The last CD sold is a Hanson single, “I Will Come to You.” The last customer, 32-year-old Megan Curtin, a 10-year Tower employee, says it was just the first thing she picked up: “I wanted to be here for one last receipt.”
Curtin’s friend rings her up: “21 cents….Can you spare that?”
“I can,” Curtin says.
“Thank you, my love,” her friend says. “We’re done.”