Our list of 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 staff and friends, we cover everything from the world's oldest and largest independent shops, from Chicago to Cardiff, UK to Wellington, New Zealand.
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.
Amoeba Music (Hollywood, CA)
Berkeley, Hollywood, and San Francisco, CA
Multiple Locations (www.amoeba.com)
It’s just a coincidence that Amoeba Music heads this alphabetical list, but it’s only appropriate that the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Independent Record Store” tops it. More than just a warehouse-sized record store where subgenres have their own used sections, Amoeba Hollywood is a tourist attraction that’s a great place to people watch, as you end up guessing what the gussied-up goth kids, middle America teens, middle-aged completists, and the hipster Beck lookalikes are stocking up on. As a music critic, a trip to Amoeba also offers a glimpse into what’s happening in music: The staff helps set trends with the titles they display, while the expert buyers give you an idea what has value and staying power and what’s destined for the bargain bin of history when you notice which promo copies overpopulate the used new arrivals rack.
Amoeba Music (Berkeley, CA)
For my money, though, the old-school Berkeley Amoeba offers the purest record shopping experience. Maybe it's not as awe-inspiring as the Hollywood location, but the old-school Amoeba is big enough to house everything you’re looking for, while not being overwhelming to the point that you feel like you missed out on something. And it’s not so cavernous that you can’t hear the clicking-and-clacking of CD cases being thumbed through, music to the ears of anyone totally immersed in music shopping as a communal act. Arnold Pan
2016 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC (www.audiopile.com)
With all due respect to Red Cat and Zulu, Audiopile is the best record store in Vancouver. Their hip-hop and electronic section may be a little thin, but they have a worthy, eclectic selection of indie/classic rock, funk, jazz, experimental, and world music on new and used vinyl and used CDs, with the best prices in town. The owner Geoff Barton, whose beaming smile and hardy laughter commands the register most days, is constantly scouring the globe for the best deals on wax, and he’s super picky about quality. Dollar bin condition in his store ranks as “good” elsewhere. Alan Ranta
3130 SE Hawthorne St., Portland OR (www.xro.com)
Used vinyl prices at the some of the larger record stores here in Portland are terribly exaggerated (they expect you to drop $16 on pedestrian pieces of junk like Beatles VI), so my favorite store to buy older records at is, without a doubt, the super reasonable and surprisingly obscure Crossroads Music. The silver medal goes to Music Millennium, which has been around since 1969, and has been host to some damn-near legendary in-stores by big-time artists like Randy Newman, Elliott Smith, the Shins, and Weezer (none of which I actually witnessed). Mo Troper
99 Bromsgrove Street, Birmingham, UK
The oldest surviving record shop in Birmingham, and the second oldest in the UK, the Diskery will be 60 this year, having opened its doors in 1952. Although a cliché, the Diskery really is more than a mere record shop, it’s an institution, and Jimmy and Luke (who have both worked there for 40 years each) have as much passion for working there as the scores of collectors who come to visit and buy their records. Predominately dealing in vinyl, Jimmy and Luke work hard to make sure that you keep coming back as they source rock, pop, jazz, soul, funk and everything else you could possibly want, while keeping prices at a reasonable level. Not easy to do with so much competition around.
The Diskery Records - Video by Sam Coley
My friend Sam Coley made the beautiful audio-visual piece above, so go hear from Jimmy and Luke and see for yourself why the Diskery is so venerated. Jez Collins
Pompton Lakes, NJ
120 Manaque Ave, Pompton Lakes, NJ (flipside2records.com)
In the tiny north Jersey town that I grew up in, a record store opened in ‘85 that carried all manner of weird indie, small label releases. Dan Doniego (aka Rev. Dan, who’s jammed with the Feelies) still runs it, proudly selling loads of CDs and vinyl there, along with a stoplight set to green when the store’s open. Every time I visit my folks, I make a stop there to crate-dig for some rarity I didn’t even know that I needed. Note their proudly minimal site too: “We do not do e-commerce, so call during business hours for mail-order.” Jason Gross
1808 Lower Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX (www.goodrecords.com)
Good Records is the beating kick drum heart of Dallas’ independent music scene, and has been since it opened over a decade ago. Owners Tim DeLaughter, rock star/cult leader frontman of the Polyphonic Spree, and Chris Penn, the most perfectly bearded and erudite post-High Fidelity record store clerk imaginable, make sure the racks are full of uncompromised, carefully curated selections of albums, singles, and special editions -- selling more vinyl than CDs. Each month, the store hosts intimate performances from local and well-known national acts, making Good Records’ Astroturfed platform and horrible fluorescent lighting the most oddly compelling stage in the city. And then once a year, on Record Store Day, the location becomes an all-day fantasy festival of bands, fans, Parliament Lights, and red Solo cups. And records. Lots of records. Lindsay Graham
1604 8th Ave. South, Nashville, TN 37203 (grimeys.com)
Grimey’s started out small, selling only used CDs out of a house that had been converted into a store. Now they have a newer location that might be bigger, but doesn’t feel that way. In fact, it feels like they’ve packed about two stores’ worth of new and used inventory in there. It’s sensory overload, in a good way, with racks and shelves of CDs and vinyl wherever your eyes try to rest. Plus, there’s the adjoining stage the Basement, a true hole-in-the-wall stage if there ever was one -- yet somehow they managed to fit Metallica in there for a secret show a few years back. It seems like everyone plays Grimey’s, either in the Basement or upstairs for an in-store. There’s more to Nashville than the country sheen it presents to tourists. As Grimey’s proves, rock and indie and rap and experimental are alive and well in Music City. Andrew Gilstrap
125 East Main St., Norman, OK (guestroom-records.com)
When you walk into the dimly lit Guestroom, one of the first things you notice is the iconic, tattered couch in the corner. You can sit/sprawl on the sofa if you like. You can play at the foosball table in the opposite corner, if you’re so inclined. Or you can browse through the best collection of music in Oklahoma -- new and used vinyl along with a vast collection of CDs. Guestroom is the nexus of a far-flung culture of indie-mad college students, high school goths, and gray ponytails. What ties the Guestroom culture together is a deep love of music that plays a transformative and vital role in our lives and community. John Grassi
Asbury Park, NJ
639 Cookman Avenue, Asbury Park, NJ (www.holdfastasburypark.com)
Asbury Park, NJ has its fair share of music venues, most notably the Stone Pony and the Saint, but the “city by the sea” lacks a key factor in any thriving music town -- a record store. That is, until Joe Koukas and Meghan Scott opened up Holdfast Records in 2009. Going strong since, Holdfast is more than just a store with record crates lining its walls; Joe and Meghan provide a home for music lovers of all kinds to convene and talk about the latest bands, who is playing in town and whatever else is going on in the world. Holdfast also sells an array of second-hand clothing, local artwork, and, most importantly, CDs/records from local bands. In an age where music stores are virtually obsolete, Holdfast provides what even the major chains back in the 80s and 90s couldn’t: a sense of community. Support local! Alex Napoliello
2-A West Stone Avenue, Greenville, SC (blog.horizonrecords.net)
Along with local music venue the Handlebar, Horizon Records anchored the revitalization of its downtown Greenville neighborhood. Having long established his store’s niche of Americana, soul, old-time pickin’, classical, and jazz, owner Gene Berger took a huge risk moving the store -- the kind of risk that can run a perfectly good business out of existence if miscalculated -- from its old location of three decades. But it worked out better than anyone could have hoped. The store’s sound-separated classical room; its vibrant “vinyl vault” of collectible records; its free live shows by both regional and national artists in an adjoining restaurant; and, most importantly, its staff, who believe that good music in all forms should be listened to, shared, and talked about, make it a true treasure of the region. Andrew Gilstrap