Our Favorite Record Stores

PopMatters Picks

by PopMatters Staff

19 April 2012


The Louisana Music Factory and more...

Sure, this list of our writers’ favorite record stores is totally based on personal preferences, but, then again, what’s more subjective than one’s taste in music? Thanks to the PopMatters music staff—with the helping hands of friends and readers—our list not only includes the world’s oldest record shop (Spiller’s in Cardiff, UK) and the world’s largest independent store (Amoeba Music), but also some relative newcomers, holes-in-the-wall, or strip-mall treasure troves you wouldn’t know were there without some expert guidance. That said, our pooled knowledge is anything but comprehensive, so please do provide your picks of what we overlooked in the comments section below.

Johnny’s Records
Darien, CT

45 Tokeneke Road, Darien CT (www.johnnysrecords.com)

The brick front and cluttered window of Johnny’s Records has graced a side street in Darien, Connecticut since 1975. It’s a small shop chock full of collectibles, clothing, and music—both vinyl and CDs represented now. If you’re lucky enough to visit with the man himself, John Konrad, there, he’ll happily point you the right direction to your favorite artist or recommend another. (I will be forever thankful for his recommendation of Spoon years ago.) The place is full of history: members of Kiss were married there and former employee Moby used to draw cartoons on shopping bags, which became his “little idiot” alter ego character. Jane Jansen Seymour

Johnny’s Records TV ad from 1984

Walking into Johnny’s Records is like walking into a museum of hallowed rock music history. The shop’s namesake has owned and operated his small store since 1975, amassing a collection of unique records, framed art, photographs, and memorabilia from some great rock icons. His tastes focus on the rock and indie side of things, with particular affinity for the Dead, and he is well versed on musicians new and old. Best of all, Johnny is friendly, interacting with his customers, learning tastes, and offering new auditory gems up for your ears, which makes a stop into his shop an educational experience and a pleasure. Sachyn Mital

Lost Weekend Records
Columbus, OH

2960 N. High Street, Columbus, OH (www.lostweekendrecords.com)

Compared to venerable Columbus record shops like Used Kids and Magnolia Thunderpussy, Lost Weekend Records is something of an upstart. Founded in 2003 north of the sprawling Ohio State campus, Lost Weekend specializes in new and hard-to-find vinyl. A musician and former college rep for Columbia and Epic, owner Kyle Siegrist mans the counter with the same qualities of his store: unbridled enthusiasm, an utter lack of indie-snob pretense, and a knowledge matching this intimate shop’s ceiling-high inventory of national and local recordings. One recent morning, a certain Guided by Voices frontman, having made the hour-plus drive from Dayton, was waiting for Siegrist to open. Which about sums up the allure of this maven’s hideaway. This year’s Record Store Day celebration includes Bloodshot artist and local standout Lydia Loveless. Robert Loss

The Louisiana Music Factory
New Orleans, LA

210 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA (louisianamusicfactory.com)

NOLA’s Louisiana Music Factory is probably the best musically region-specific record store anywhere. This beloved establishment features the staggering variety of Louisiana music in all its forms. If you’re looking for indie pop, forget it, unless you want to pick up the latest Theresa Andersson record or that of another local musician. In this era of the localvore, the Louisiana Music Factory could well be a cultural poster boy/girl for the movement. From Cajun and Zydeco to blues, R&B and country, and literally everything in between, if it was made by a Louisiana musician, it’s here. That means Cajun and New Orleans jazz obsessives like me can test the limits of credit cards and be the completists that we love to be. Oh, and a bonus, bands often play free shows here, while the local Abita brewery brings in cans or kegs to keep the party going. Sarah Zupko

BeauSoleil at the Louisiana Music Factory

M-Theory Music
San Diego, CA

915 W. Washington St., San Diego, CA (www.mtheorymusic.com)

In business for over a decade, M-Theory Music has in recent years become San Diego’s premier record shop. There are other great stores in town proffering vinyl and that indie experience you just can’t get from Amazon. But M-Theory benefits from its prime geographical location—it is the preferred venue for in-store acoustic sets of artists playing the Casbah, just down the hill. Hosting hometown favorites (Steve Poltz, Louis XIV, Reeve Oliver) as well as national acts (Black Lips, Blitzen Trapper, Paolo Nutini, even The Voice phenom Dia Frampton way back in 2007) is just one of the store’s attractions—owners Heather Johnson and Eric Howarth also throw a mean listening party. Jennifer Cooke

Mecca Music and Books
Albuquerque, NM

1404 Central Ave. SW, Albuquerque, NM

Times haven’t been great for record stores in Albuquerque lately; it’s hard not to long for the days when Natural Sound held down one side of the Central Avenue corridor and equally defunct Bow Wow Records the other (often with a Shins member at the register), though Burque’s still got some gems. Located in a sleepy west-downtown storefront, Mecca Music and Books stocks great indie, funk and world beat releases, with a nice selection of rarities and oddities, including long out-of-print local 45s. It’s cozy, but there’s a lot to reward the careful browser. Phil Leckman

Mood’s Music
Atlanta, GA

1131 Euclid Avenue, Atlanta, GA (moodsmusic.net)

In a day when most record stores are closing, Mood’s Music in Atlanta is thriving. It’s exactly what its name suggests, a spot in the artsy Five Points district where you can stroll through and be introduced to bands that you’ve never heard of, but are sure to love. The soulful vibe of Mood’s is at the heart of owner Darryl Harris’ vision of a record store where he invites people to chill while he introduces them to their next favorite singer. Fredara Mareva

Music & Video Exchange
London, UK

Multiple locations in London (mgeshops.com)

The London used record chain Music & Video Exchange has locations around town in the typically hip spots, including Soho and Camden, but the best of the pack is the group of shops west in Notting Hill. Of course, you can get all the latest British pop and rock, as well as a great back catalogue of the stuff, but there’s also a classical shop and a soul/dance shop and I’ve had amazing luck with finding things deep on my want list in the Europop, electronic and jazz categories, too. I once had to haul a massive stack of classical LPs back to the States in my suitcase because they had all these old ‘60s German recordings of German opera with my favorite singers of the era. The best thing about it is that you can make a day of it, hopping to each store around town to work down that 500-item list of must-haves that all music geeks have. Sarah Zupko

Newbury Comics
Locations throughout New England

Multiple locations in New England (www.newburycomics.com)

Despite not being able to get a date, the early 1990s were wicked good times, if only because I could spend my lonely Friday and Saturday nights listening to an overabundance of staggeringly awesome music. Primus, Ride, Public Enemy, Lush, Boogie Down Productions, Dinosaur Jr.—all of them were either hitting their respective strides or were coming out of really prolific parts of their careers. And who stocked their music? Newbury Comics, specifically the branch right outside of Worcester, Massachusetts. I remember my first trip to the store, when I raced down the aisle ahead of a close friend to grab the last remaining copy of Faith No More’s Live at the Brixton Academy, the first copy either of us had ever seen in person. “You asshole,” he yelled. Wicked good times indeed. Joseph Fisher

Off the Hip
Melbourne, Australia

Basement, Tavistock House, 381 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Australia (www.offthehip.com.au)

Down an alleyway just off one of Melbourne’s main strips, you’ll find a sign that simply says “Records”, with an arrow pointing downstairs. Take the rickety old stairs down into a place where garage, psych, and all manner of bare-bones rock’n’roll are the only currency available for trading. Mixed with current favourites, including releases from Goner and In The Red, you’ll find a healthy dose of out-of-print singles from around the world. Chris Baty mans the shop and the Off the Hip record label around the clock, and is proud of everything he sells. He’ll step away from his omnipresent bottle of James Boag’s lager to give anything that looks attractive a spin. And there’s a lot of that. Joshua Kloke

Out of the Past Records
Chicago, IL

4407 W. Madison Street, Chicago, IL (outofthepastrecords.com)

The first time I walked into Out of the Past on Chicago’s Westside, I knew I was in the right place: old soul blaring from the speakers, heated debates over who sang what in what year and on what label, records of all kinds cascading from the wall, and, of course, a random cat perched on top of a water-damaged stack, surveying the whole scene. It’s a digger’s paradise. I spent three hours there sifting through each and every box like an archaeologist does an excavation site. But what opened up the coveted bargainer’s dialogue was that despite the seemingly chaotic nature of the place, everything did in fact have some sort of order, and I made sure to respect that. Marie, the owner, noticed and after an hour, as to reward my efforts, she directed me to “The Room”. Those who’ve been lucky enough to get on her good side know all about it, and the beauty is if you get on her real good side you’ll find out about “The Basement” and even “The Back”. Respect is the name of the game at Out of the Past. Respect the history. Respect the dedication. Respect the love. Do that and you’ll walk away with something truly special. J. Min

Pat’s Music Center
Philadelphia, PA

7302 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA (www.patsmusiccenter.com)

Tucked away in Northeast Philadelphia is Pat’s, a small, family-owned record shop / music store spanning three generations. What it lacks in glamour, Pat’s more than makes up for with charm and a solid selection of albums. If they don’t have it in stock, the staff—comprised of the two brothers who own the store and a part-time cast of full-time music aficionados—can get it for you the next day. If you’re a regular and find yourself jawing with the staff, they’re keen to give you a head’s-up on new releases in line with your own musical preferences. The shop does not cater to just one specific genre of music fan, as evidenced by the array of clients who walk through Pat’s doors on any given afternoon. Diversity is on display, as death metal and hip hop demos sit side-by-side for sale near the store’s registers, promoting local talent. The store also sells and repairs a wide variety of musical instruments and offers lessons. You don’t get much more of a commitment to music than that! Lana Cooper

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