For passionate music lovers there’s few greater pleasures than sifting through crates of new and used vinyls at records stores, secondhand shops and flea markets. We vinyl lovers are the people that prefer a turntable and pair of speakers over streaming platforms and bluetooth headphones. We take pride in discovering dusty rarities and mint condition originals and wait eagerly for new releases and repressed classics.
A vinyl revival has been in motion over the last decade or so, which has also seen a rise in the popularity of the record store. Beyond serving as places to buy, sell and trade vinyl, many stores offer CDs, cassettes and merchandise and host live performances and signings. As Record Store Day approaches—after being postponed twice due to the global pandemic—here’s a selection of the coolest record stores across the USA. Most are open for business but with reduced hours and by appointment only.
With locations in Berkeley, Hollywood and San Francisco, Amoeba Music’s three stores are music nirvana. Think row upon row of every imaginable genre in almost every imaginable format plus live shows, launches, signings and impossibly knowledgeable staff. The Hollywood store, which is in the middle of a relocation, claims to be the world’s biggest independent record store. Paul McCartney and Solomon Burke have played to adoring fans there, and it’s even a venue in the video game Guitar Hero World Tour. With thousands of low-budget, indie and blockbuster films for sale, Amoeba has garnered a fanbase among movie buffs as well.
Bric-a-Brac Records, Chicago
Look no further than Chicago’s Bric-a-Brac Records and Collectibles if you have a soft spot for 80s and 90s pop culture. Need a vinyl issue of Singles - 45’s and Under by Squeeze and cassette releases of Spanish-language hardcore punk? You’ve got it here. Want to bolster your pop merchandise collection with a Ninja Turtle board game, a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man radio and WWF figures? You’ve got all that here, too. Throw in some Tiny Desk-style live shows, and the store is more hipster than a fixie bike, plaid shirt, or a quinoa muffin served on a slate plate.
Easy Street Records, Seattle
On a corner of West Seattle’s lively California Avenue is Easy Street Records and Cafe. Opened in the late 80s, today it continues serving passionate music fans with 45s, LPs, cassettes, and CDs. Genres cover the full spectrum from country and grunge to jazz and prog-rock. They’ll also buy your old collections, including any 8-tracks you might still have. Complementing the experience is a café with a menu of music-themed dishes such as the Dolly Parton pancake and James Browns (hash browns). The store’s cult status was elevated in 1995 when Eddie Vedder worked a shift and played Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine on repeat.
Goner Records, Memphis
Goner Records is the spin-off shop of the namesake Memphis independent record label. Founders and musicians Eric Friedl, of punk band the Oblivians, and Zac Ives opened up in 2004 to rail against the dying record store trade. There’s naturally an emphasis on the label’s bands, including Japanese garage rock trio Guitar Wolf and multi-instrumentalist Ty Segall. Look out for bins full of releases by Big Star, Booker T. & the M.G.’s and Isaac Hayes, among other Memphis legends. They even host the annual Goner Fest, which showcases the label's artists to the broader Memphis community.
As stated by the owners themselves, Grimey’s New and Pre-Loved Music is an analog store saving music in a digital world since 1999. Expect shelves packed with vinyl, CDs, DVDs, magazines and turntables and a team of welcoming, open-minded music-loving staff. Nashville is a hotbed of country and honky tonk, yet the store’s taste is as eclectic as they come. You are just as likely to hear moody electronic tracks in the background as you are a Johnny Cash number. Established and emerging artists often drop in for intimate and free performances.
Jackpot Records, Portland
In Portland’s hip and quirky Hawthrone district, Jackpot Records is a record store that doubles as the headquarters of its eponymous label. When it opened in 1997, the store’s philosophy was to stock vinyls based on their customer’s needs. Now you’ll find everything from a limited 7-inch edition of The Lurch by Ted Cassidy to reissues of albums by Etta James and the Super Super Blues Band. The red ceiling and dim lighting give off a Vegas-cum-Twin Peaks red room vibe. Keep an eye on the stores social media pages for live show announcements.
Stranded Records, New York City
These days it’s hard for a hidden gem to remain hidden before word spreads as fast as sales of Adele’s 25. Luckily for crate diggers, tucked away in a basement in New York’s East Village is the small Standard Records (formerly Good Records). This is the place for when you are in the mood for some West African rhythms and the jazz grooves of Alice and John Coltrane, or when your ears desire a Lee Scratch Perry-produced album by Seke Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo. The store, of which has locations in Oakland and San Francisco, is also part of the San Fran-based label Superior Viaduct.
Top photo by Florencia Viadana