Sixteen years after Tower Records was forced to close all of their physical stores, the once-giant music retailer is making a comeback in Williamsburg — and taking a new approach. Tower Labs, a cozy, warmly-lit “creative hub” where artists and fans can mix and mingle at a variety of events, opened on Kent Avenue on Nov. 4.
Rather than just selling music, Tower Labs will work with independent music venues across Brooklyn to connect with artists and allow them to host intimate events and gatherings before and after their shows. To stay true to the company’s roots, Tower Labs will also host pop-up sales of merchandise, physical music and collectibles from time to time.
“The music business has changed dramatically over the past two decades. Vinyl and merch will always be sold at Tower Records, but at our core, we believe we’re a space where artists can feel at home and connect with fans searching for new music,” Tower Records president Danny Zeijdel told Brooklyn Paper via email. “The intention with Tower Labs is to discover what the next generation of retail looks like and use the space as an opportunity to build a sustainable model for future Tower stores.”
Founded in 1960, Tower Records had a wildly successful half-century selling vinyl and CDs across the U.S. and in a dozen countries. Their locations — especially the ones in Manhattan — drew swarms of music-lovers and were frequented by some of the most popular artists of the time. But, in 2004, the company declared bankruptcy, and in 2006, all of its physical locations shuttered. In the twenty years since then, brick-and-mortar music stores have continued to shutter as consumers moved away from physical music and into the digital realm.
But, for over half a decade, Tower Records has been keeping an eye on the re-emerging vinyl scene and doing market research, Zeijdel said, in preparation for the company’s 60th anniversary in 2020. They planned to relaunch at the 2020 South by Southwest festival, then open a series of pop-up stores across the country, but those plans were scuttled by the pandemic. They quickly pivoted and opened an online music store, which Zeijdel said has become one of North America’s top online physical music retailers.
Williamsburg was at the top of the list of potential locations for Tower’s return to the physical realm, Zeijdel said — the nabe is a “breeding ground for emerging music and a thriving cultural hub in New York City.”
He hopes Tower Labs can tap into that hub and create a space for physical connection and community. Musicians will be invited to host listening parties, merch and LP drops, performances, and podcast recordings at the space — and artists will even be able to just spend time hanging out there before they head to a show in the area. Outfitted with wood paneling and vintage-style furniture, the new venue harkens back to the original golden age of Tower Records.
A lot has changed since Tower Records last ruled the local music scene. In 2006, devoted music lovers would head to the record store to purchase their favorite artist’s most recent CD or vinyl release — and, of course, would have to gather their whole catalogue to access their favorite songs across albums. Now, streaming rules the industry — people pay their subscription fees to Spotify or Apple Music to gain access to a huge array of artists and songs, and purchasing music (in a physical or digital form) is less common.
But the digital boom has left a hole Tower Labs hopes to fill in Williamsburg and elsewhere as they expand.
“Our lives are obviously very digital now, but physical experiences and connections are still imperative,” Zeijdel said. “We’re looking to find a healthy balance between the two as we follow trends in the industry.”
Pop and R&B artist Lolo Zouaï will be visiting Tower Labs soon for a signing, and Zeijdel encouraged local music lovers to follow the space on social media and check their website for more events in the near future. Tower is also working with artists who have recently performed at nearby Warsaw Concerts and Superior Ingredients, and are hoping to connect with the well-known Music Hall of Williamsburg — which is just a few blocks away from their new space.