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Our Favorite Record Stores: PopMatters Picks

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.

[Artist Picks Part One | Artist Picks Part Two]

 

Amoeba Music (Hollywood, CA)

Amoeba Music
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

 

Audiopile Records
Vancouver, BC

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

 

Crossroads Records
Portland, OR

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

 

The Diskery
Birmingham, UK

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

 

Flipside 2 Records
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

 

Good Records
Dallas TX

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

 

Grimey’s New & Preloved Music
Nashville, TN

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

 

Guestroom Records
Norman, OK

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

 

Holdfast Records
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

 

Horizon Records
Greenville, SC

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

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

Reckless Records 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.

 

Permanent Records
Brooklyn, NY

181 Franklin Street, Brooklyn, NY (permanentrecords.info)

Even in New York City, there’s no longer any guarantee that you can simply walk out your front door and find yourself within spitting distance of a record store, rad or otherwise. Fortunately for urban denizens in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, there’s Permanent Records. Warm and inviting, Permanent Records combines the rare with the recent, and the staff is knowledgeable without ever coming off as elitist snobs. In other words, this is where you want to be whether you’re a music neophyte dipping his toe in the water or a sophisticate looking for the perfect fix. Crispin Kott

 

Pigasus
Berlin, Germany

Danziger Str. 52, 10435 Berlin (www.pigasus-gallery.de)

Pigasus is primarily a shop for Polish poster art, but their sideline business of CDs is even more impressive. Featuring a broad range of Central and Eastern European artists, Pigasus has Polish music as its centerpoint, but also an impressive array of CDs from the Balkans, Russia, and Ukraine, as well as gypsy music. From traditional folk sounds to contemporary rock, hip-hop and jazz, Pigasus is the place to get the musical pulse of Europe’s heartland. I have a long list of Polish and Balkan faves, including the East-meets-West ethno-folk of Dikanda and the Warsaw Village Band to the modern Polish Highlanders Zakopower to the Balkan beats of Goran Bregovic and the gypsy rhythms of Kal. Pigasus is where I order the new records from my faves, as well as constantly discover new artists and musical directions that I want to explore. I know of no other such rich resource for the diverse sounds of Central and Eastern Europe. Sarah Zupko

 

Plan 9 Music
Richmond, VA

3012 W. Cary Street, Richmond, VA (plan9music.com/Home)

In its prime, Plan 9 Music spanned seven stores across Virginia and North Carolina. Presently numbering two locations in Charlottesville and Richmond, Plan 9 has in recent years faced obstacles similar to those of record stores across the country: sales in decline, rents on the rise, and an economy and industry in flux. So while last year’s bankruptcy filing seemed inevitable, it is still difficult to imagine Richmond’s Carytown without Plan 9. With clerks that could have stepped out of High Fidelity and thousands of square footage of browsing and listening space, Plan 9 once took most of my disposable income and gave me a musical education. Albums were only the beginning. Plan 9 stocked box sets, imports, Maxi-CDs, and limited editions that made it seem possible to track down everything by even the most prolific acts. For movies, Plan 9 kick-started my Criterion Collection completism, and they also offered live music, once hosting Sparklehorse for an unforgettable parking lot concert. These are some of my favorite things from Plan 9’s decades past. May there be many more. Thomas Britt

 

Princeton Record Exchange
Princeton, NJ

20 South Tulane Street, Princeton Township, NJ (www.prex.com)

For me, Princeton Record Exchange has always been more than a record store. Growing up in suburban New Jersey, it was a taste of something more: a gathering place after late-night coffee runs, an introduction to ‘20s blues, ‘60s pop, and ‘80s hip-hop (through the store’s unbelievable and extensive collection of albums under $1.99), a haven of eccentrics, hipsters, purists, and day-trippers. To this day, I can spend entire hours there, and manage to spend less than $10. In an age when record stores are on the verge of extinction, I can’t overestimate the value of a place like Princeton Record Exchange. Emily Tartanella

 

Rainbow Records
Anderson, SC

2705 N Main St. # B, Anderson, SC

After decades spent fending off chain record stores in the local mall, Rainbow Records faced a new challenge. The shadows of the big box stores loomed large, and it truly seemed impossible for an indie store to compete when Circuit City could sell a new release CD for less than your store could buy it wholesale. Owner Mark Hembree closed one of his locations, slashed his inventory to the bare bones (sometimes unable to justify stocking his own favorite music because of the bottom line), gritted his teeth, and kept going. But now Circuit City’s gone, Best Buy’s announcing store closings, and if I were Mark, I’d be taking daily pilgrimages to their empty storefronts just to flip them a triumphant bird. Rainbow’s a vital part of Anderson, but it’s also a survivor. It’s embraced the vinyl resurgence (both new and used), begun growing its genre sections again, and Mark and staff can still guide you through several decades worth of good music. It’s proof that a good thing can survive in a mean world if you fight hard enough. Andrew Gilstrap

 

Rare and Racy
Sheffield, UK

164/166 Devonshire Street, Sheffield, UK (www.rareandracy.co.uk/index.htm)

A fixture in Sheffield’s Devonshire Quarter since 1969, Rare and Racy is a haven for lovers of old vinyl. The psychedelic sign may have disappeared a long time ago — more’s the pity — but the feel of a “proper” record shop (and antiquarian bookshop: double the fun) still lingers, keeping regulars coming back time and time again for its selection of old vinyl, classic film soundtracks, world music, and choice finds from various genres. Sheffield has contributed more to music than most UK cities, and Rare and Racy reflects this in its section dedicated to local artists. A real find. Gem Wheeler

 

Reckless Records
Chicago, IL

Multiple locations in Chicago, IL (www.reckless.com)

Record shoppers in Chicago have seen their options narrow in recent years, but Reckless Records, with its three locations, maintains a strong presence in the city. A U.S. offshoot of a London shop and label, Reckless first arrived in Chicago in 1989 with the opening of its original Broadway store. They’ve since moved that store to a larger location across the street and opened up additional stores in other neighborhoods. The Broadway and Milwaukee Avenue locations offer plenty of browsing space, with vast collections of new and used vinyl, CDs, DVDs, and more, plus occasional in-store performances. The downtown location is smaller but densely stocked. Shoppers can grab hot-selling titles from the new releases wall up front, or they can delve deep into the overflowing racks in search of old favorites, out-of-print obscurities, and $2 bargains. Mike Noren

 

Record Collector
Iowa City, IA

116 South Linn Street, Iowa City, IA (www.recordcollectorinc.com)

Like all good stores, Record Collector has a diverse array of wares from out-of-print albums to the latest cutting-edge discs to used copies of eclectic and classic music on both formats. The store, which has been in operation for 30 years, has a distinct personality thanks to owner Kirk Walther and his staff. They have seen the changes from vinyl to CDs to digital music, but have always concentrated more on the music itself than the format through which it was delivered. They make one feel cool, whether the customer is a clueless parent looking for kid’s gift or the hippest listener looking to score the latest thing. Steve Horowitz

 

Rhino Records
Claremont, CA

235 Yale Ave., Claremont, CA (www.rhinorecords.cc)

Rhino Records in Claremont, California was founded in 1974 by the Rhino label. Independently owned and operated since 1976, the store continues to draw a loyal and dedicated following of music devotees of independent, experimental, and otherwise obscure vinyl and CDs. Rhino remains that rare cultural resource — it hosts live in-store performances and includes staff members whose bands and record labels have made an imprint on the local and national music scene. To my mind, the key to Rhino’s appeal, success, and relevance has always been its almost fanatically dedicated staff. Yes, they could be music snobs, but Rhino has long maintained a spirit of generosity that made independent and experimental music accessible to me and continues to make it accessible for countless others seeking something beyond the norm. Michael Masatsugu

 

Rolling Stones Records
Norridge, IL

7300 Irving Park Rd., Norridge, IL (rollingstonesmusic.com)

Much has been said about how difficult it is for record stores to make a profit these days, but Rolling Stones has thrived despite major competition for over forty years. Across the street from a huge mall that contains both a Target and a Best Buy, ‘Stones (as the locals like to call it) has outlived former neighbors Record Town, F.Y.E, Borders, and probably more music retailers that were before my time.

As wide as several houses, cardboard cutouts of musicians decorate the roof and posters of rock stars and recent album releases cover up its glass windows. The inside is decorated with thousands of discs, with wide aisles full of CDs, music merchandise, DVDs, band T-shirts, and more. Partially due to their occasional band meet-and-greets (Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, and My Chemical Romance are a few of their former guests), people want to work there so badly that there is a waiting list to be a cashier. It is a unique place in an otherwise bland area. Jessy Krupa

Slow Boat Records 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.

 

Slow Boat Records
Wellington, NZ

183 Cuba Street, Wellington, NZ (slowboatrecords.co.nz)

Slow Boat Records is New Zealand’s longest running independent record store, a mandatory destination for music geeks, gourmands, and touring bands visiting NZ’s capital Wellington. Bulging with racks of new and second-hand vinyl, CDs, and musical miscellanea, Slow Boat is a dream terminus for lovers of antipodean tunes, indie, prog, psych, reggae, and alt-everything. You really haven’t lived till you’ve withered under the scornful gaze of a Slow Boat staff member when purchasing an unapproved item, or been filled with chest-bursting happiness as the nod of approval is sent your way. Slow Boat: pure, idiosyncratic record store heaven. Craig Hayes

 

Sound Exchange
Wayne, NJ

1482 Route 23 North, Wayne, NJ (www.soundexchangewayne.com)

Sound Exchange is a little shop crammed into a strip mall along the westbound lane of RT 23 in Wayne. It has all the things that make great record stores legendary. An enormous selection of vinyl, CDs, cassettes, books, and video that is predominantly indie, punk, Britpop, as well as mainstream artists of the last 40 years. Walking into this small but overfilled shop gives the buyer the notion that this could be an all-day event and often hours will unknowingly pass you by while you peruse the shelves. As a young man growing up in rural Sussex County of northwestern New Jersey, my quest for releases by the British indie and punk bands that I idolized were usually futile, as local record shops stocked nothing more than what was popular at the time. My travels took me miles outside my hometown to places such as Morristown, Hacketstown, New Brunswick, and even NYC to find the perfect shop that was going to satiate my need for the obscure. Through word of mouth and myriad of searches, I found myself at Sound Exchange and since then, there is no other record shop for me. Even though I’ve relocated south to Manahawkin NJ, I still have no qualms about gassing up the car and taking the 90-minute drive up the Parkway for an amazing record shop experience. Adam Klimas

 

The Sound Garden
Baltimore, MD

1616 Thames St, Baltimore, MD (www.cdjoint.com)

Growing up half an hour away from the nearest music chain store meant that going to any independent record store was a remarkable experience. The Sound Garden, located in Fells Point, Baltimore, always seemed a little more significant. The store feels as expansive as a Tower Records, but more obliging. The used music and DVD sections are just as immense as the new releases, and even imports are reasonably priced. A personal best memory is of buying my first copy of Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible there; although I’ve bought successive copies (come on, I had to have the tenth anniversary reissue), the thrill of purchase never compared to that first time in this homey and exhaustive shop. Maria Schurr

 

Spillers Records
Cardiff, UK

31 Morgan Arcade, Cardiff, UK (www.spillersrecords.co.uk)

If you’re lucky enough to have a decent record store near you then hug it, squeeze it, love it, ‘cos if you’re stuck in the Midlands of ol’ Blightly life is hard. You must endure epic Lord of the Rings-style journeys to find musical Mecca. Luckily, there are such places worth battling giant spiders and insanely exorbitant rail fares for. Head “Darn Sarf” (London) and you have Rough Trade with many an exclusive or venture “Oop Norf” (Manchester) to fulfill your High Fidelity dreams at Piccadilly. The wisest though go west, into the hinterland of deepest Cardiff to unearth the mythic, legendary Spillers — the world’s oldest and most precious record emporium. Reassuringly shabby, passionate, and inviting, Spillers’ underdog spirit to survive and serve reflects that holy mantra all true believers share: music isn’t a matter of life or death, it’s way more important than that. Matt James

 

Spiral Scratch Records
Buffalo, NY

291 Bryant St, Buffalo NY (spiralscratchrecords.blogspot.com)

Buffalo knows a thing or two about frustration, disappointment, and sticking together through tough times, which means it knows a thing or two about punk rock. That’s why when Spiral Scratch Records opened in 2008, it immediately became a local institution. Keep it simple, stupid: a hip spot, a friendly staff, and an impeccably curated stack of the best punk wax anywhere around. After five years, it’s become a music destination that a city ten times Buffalo’s size would be lucky to have. After all, a band like Fucked Up isn’t gonna feature just any crummy store on one of their singles. Pat Kewley

 

Streetlight Records
San Francisco, CA

2350 Market Street, San Francisco, CA (www.streetlightrecords.com)

In San Francisco, a town hardly wanting for great record stores, Streetlight Records in the city’s Castro area is an overlooked gem. Some may find it small, so maybe don’t pass-up Amoeba if you only have a day to be here, but it’s perfect the way it is. New stuff, super cheap used stuff, lots of new and used vinyl, and, in particular, a carefully curated selection of catalog titles displayed throughout the store make Streetlight one-of-a-kind. Here, music passionistas can argue over Nilsson and dub while brushing up against Castro-dwellers hunting down limited edition Lady Gaga picture discs on Record Store Day. It all makes for as un-self-conscious of a display of true music love as I’m willing to bet exists anywhere. Jon Langmead

 

Strictly Discs
Madison, WI

1900 Monroe St., Madison, WI (www.strictlydiscs.com)

Sometimes I still get the itch. I clear out an hour or two, grab some cash (no paper trail, no questions), and whip on down to Monroe Street. Always someone I can banter with behind the counter; always something pretty and bizarre playing on the sound system; always new and used CDs overflowing all the shelves and racks and piles and displays in the upstairs room. A couple times a year, I allow myself to descend the rickety stairs to the basement, which is packed with vinyl — not too often, though, because I still need to buy food and gas sometimes. Matt Cibula

 

The End of All Music
Oxford, MS

1423 North Lamar Blvd., Oxford, MS (theendofallmusic.com)

My new favorite record shop is less than 30 days old, but it has early spring, big league potential. The End of All Music in Oxford, Mississippi is generously stocked with vinyl — the used section draws on the private collection of Fat Possum General Manager Bruce Watson — and a smattering of CDs. This is north Mississippi, so the Hill Country blues of the Burnside and Kimbrough families are well represented, but the store reaches beyond the local to include deep holdings in indie rock and new releases from some of the most interesting labels going: Mississippi, the Numero Group, Goner, Light in the Attic, Dust to Digital. In Oxford, it suddenly feels like a missing face has been restored to the family portrait. Long may she run. Ben Child

 

Used Kids
Columbus, OH

1980 N. High St., Columbus, OH (www.usedkids.com)

Used Kids Records, situated neatly in the middle of the Ohio State campus area, has a bewildering amount of inexpensive vinyl just waiting for your perusing. Mainstream and obscure blobs of wax alike go on sale each Monday, and it’s hard to walk away from your shopping trip disappointed. The quantities of strange yet affordable CDs I have walked away with are plentiful. Their dedication to the local scene is impressive, and I’m proud to have had myself featured on more than one release. And the really nice thing about Used Kids is, if you have stuff to sell and/or trade, they aren’t a bunch of stingy Half Priced Bookies. They make it worth your trip (because OSU campus parking can be a bitch). John Garratt

 

Vertigo Records
Ottawa, ON

193 Rideau St., Ottawa, ON (www.vertigorecords.ca)

If there’s a hub for all things music related in Ottawa, Vertigo Records has to be it. Stocking mostly vinyl records (and CDs, too), the place is a gathering spot for the hip and trendy who want to grab a record and some concert tix in one go — nevermind the fact that the store is located on one of the dodgiest (yet busiest) downtown streets where crackheads abound. If you can get past the grime on the sidewalk, Vertigo is a virtual treasure trove of all sorts of goodness. And other artists know it too — I have it on good faith that Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore dropped by to shop one Sunday afternoon when he was playing in town last summer. I’m still kicking myself for not picking up that Left Banke greatest hits album when I saw it one of the last times I was in, but there’s enough in the bins to make up for anything you’ve missed. Come to Vertigo Records, leave with a little less dough in your pocket. That’s the motto here. Zachary Houle

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