A fond farewell

Tom Farnsworth’s closing Tracks
By BOB GULLA  |  November 27, 2007

When I received word that Tom’s Tracks on Thayer Street was going out of business, my initial reaction was blasé. Of course, it was only a matter of time before the sole survivors in the record retail business bit the dust. With all the big boxes, the gentrification and chain store permeation of Thayer, and rampant downloading and illegal filesharing, the little guys don’t have a chance in hell. But after speaking with Tom Farnsworth, I found that it wasn’t the economic climate that’s driven him out. It’s Tom’s debilitating health.
 
“I tried to stay in business. I knew the record business was changing,” he says, quietly. “But I still thought I could continue it for a year or two. I wanted to make it to 25 years.”
 
Close. Tom made it to 23. That he held out for that long was a testament to the loyalty of his customers, the strength and support of his wife Kristin Kearney and right-hand man Rick Bellaire, and the quality of his business. But Farns¬worth was stricken with multiple sclerosis in late 2006, which caused him to lose sight in one eye. To make matters worse, he then suffered a stroke that robbed sight from his other eye. Today, Tom is blind. “I liken myself to the guy that’s standing at a railroad crossing and gets whacked by a train and says, ’What the hell happened?’ I wake up every day and try to figure out how to be blind.”
 
Resolute and at least partially undaunted, Tom attempted to go into the store this fall on Sundays, but he suffered another stroke while at work. “That’s when I realized it was a fantasy to stay in business,” he says. “I wanted to be there for my customers; I could afford to stay in business as a sole proprietor, but my health became a real issue. I could still fish, but I had to cut bait when I lost my eyesight.” Staff was hired to cover his hours, but the store wasn’t able to remain profitable with the additional cost, coupled with the industry-wide downturn in sales.
 
Farnsworth began his record-selling career back in 1979 at Goldy’s. He opened Tom’s at 287 Thayer in 1985 and then moved to 281. News of the closing is another blow to the local music community; Tom always found shelf space for local bands when the chain stores turned area musicians away.
 
Tom Track’s was the last record store on Thayer, the sixth and final one to wave the white flag. As record stores shutter, music enthusiasts lose their pipeline to knowledge, camaraderie, and interaction. Time was, music fans turned to record store guys like Farnsworth for suggestions, recommendations, and reactions. Today’s blogs provide a pale imitation of the direct and unfiltered opinions of informed music experts.
 
“The one thing I learned,” Tom says, “if I learned anything, is this: listen to the customers. If a RISD kid comes in and asks for Iron & Wine or Café Tacuba and you’d never heard of them, you’d better find out who they are. Also, I discovered quickly that you cannot stock what you like unless it happens to sell. If people dig the Stones and you stock the Beatles, everybody loses.”
 
Plans are being finalized for a series of sales to reduce inventory over the next few weeks and to move the used and collectable segments of the business to an Internet-based operation. “Believe me,” Tom says, “there’s no heavier heart than mine. I’m literally stunned. If you want to tell your readers one thing, tell them not to take anything for granted. Everything, including work, is a privilege, not a right.”

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