The 17 Coolest Record Stores in America

Music Features America

On the eve of Record Store Day 2010, we revisit our indie music shop feature from the July 2008 issue of Paste.

People are no longer leaving their houses. They are content to wirelessly import digital music straight into nano-engineered storage devices implanted in their grey matter, and the digital revolution is killing brick-and-mortar retail. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the record store’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Just as people of faith need houses of worship in which to commune, music zealots are no less dependent on shrines dedicated to their own decibel-cranked passion. For that reason, Paste hereby celebrates the record store, bestowing superlatives on a few of America’s finest. May they live long and loud!

The Best Store in the World. Not Just Music. But Store. Including Target.
Tour posters climb the 50-foot walls, surrounding you as you join the skinny-jeans-wearing bass players and bespectacled screenwriters who listen to an in-store performance from The Bird and the Bee. You can then wander off in search of a red-vinyl Vince Guaraldi album or Tom Jones’ Live at Caesar’s or the latest posthumous Tupac release. Looks like L.A. doesn’t suck after all.
[6400 Sunset Blvd.,]

Most Likely to Get Arrested for Cramming Too Much Addictive Stuff Into Such a Small Space
Criminal makes the most of its tight square footage, snugly fitting loads of DVDs, books, comics, magazines, toys and stereo accessories, plus multiple listening stations and, of course, its impressive CD-and-vinyl selection—everything from classic Smiths to obscure noise rock. Bonus points for having helpful clerks (not jerks), amazingly diverse in-stores (both Japanese drone-metal band Boris and sweet-voiced gospel singer Charlie Louvin), and for being hugely supportive of the thriving Atlanta music scene.
[466 Moreland Ave. NE,]

Most Trusted One-Stop For New York Record Dorks
Named partly for the albums the massive Tower Records across the street didn’t carry, New York’s Other Music has now outlived its late, monolithic neighbor. With a staff that birthed Animal Collective, the adventurous buyers aren’t afraid to curate sections classified merely as “In” and “Out.”
[15 E. 4th St.,]

Best Record Store to Grow Up and Grow Old With
Austin’s Waterloo Records has not only grown up with the Texas college-town/cultural crux, but has also stayed weird over the years. Teens find cool indie-rock 7-inches; college kids pick up Vampire Weekend or Criterion Collection DVDs, while their parents can buy Willie Nelson boxed sets and vintage Stevie Ray Vaughan posters.
[600A North Lamar,]

Best Place to Bankrupt Yourself on Limited-Edition Psychedelic Black Metal Imports
This San Francisco institution specializes in extreme and esoteric recordings—they’ve sold hundreds of copies of a 4-disc set on which wobbly shortwave-radio voices read lists of numbers. The store’s biweekly email blast features lengthy reviews of their latest Latvian black-metal CD-Rs and doom-improv LP reissues.
[1055 Valencia St.,]

Best Way To Support The Delta Economy
An essential stop on any Mississippi-blues pilgrimage, Cat Head is one of the most vibrant spots in the decaying Delta, a rustic-chic shrine to handmade art and hardscrabble music. It’s probably the only store on this list to sell face jugs along with Fat Possum vinyl.
[252 Delta Ave.,]

Best Place To Buy Funk Records No One’s Ever Heard Of
The web store rocks, but nothing beats browsing at this cozy, impeccably curated soul/funk/jazz emporium. The place is especially great for rarities and compilations, which turn at frightening speed from obscurities to must-haves. Close your eyes and grab a stack—every record in your hand will be a keeper.
[1120 N. Ashland Ave.,]

Best Opportunity To Purchase Travis Tritt Albums Without Irony or Shame
“So,” you think to yourself when visiting Nashville, “I should probably buy some country music while I’m in town. But where?” Then you see it, amidst the bright, boozy lights of downtown Nashvegas—a 61-year-old shop that’ll send you home with a stash of musical souvenirs, along with some new cowboy boots and a Jack Daniel’s hangover.
[417 Broadway,]

Best Place to Buy the Latest Shins Disc While Watching Them Play a Live Set Overhead
Owner and Weird Al doppelganger Terry Currier has watched his franchise ebb and flow with the fortunes of the industry, but Music Millennium—founded in 1969—can rightly claim its place as the Pacific Northwest’s longest-running music store. This low-key “place where the music and people still matter” has long provided rabid musos with both impossibly rare finds and in-store appearances from acts ranging from the late Elliott Smith to Randy Newman to Maureen McCormick (whom most people know as “Marcia Brady”).
[3158 E. Burnside,]

Best Place To Pick Up Hot Buttered Soul on Vinyl and Then Walk Two Blocks For Some Hot Barbecue
Kickass music in a building that looks like a country shack: Southern hospitality and vintage Memphis soul, from Stax and Hi to gritty, homegrown garage-rock like The Oblivians and Viva L’American Death Ray Music. Grab a Kreature Komforts Lowlife Guide to Memphis for a hipster’s-eye view of the Bluff City.
[1916 Madison Ave.,]

Best Place to Find Cool Bumper Stickers for the Outside of Your Car, and CDs for the Inside
At a time when indie record stores were dropping off the map, John Timmons decided he needed to move into a building big enough to need its own map. Ear X-tacy grew from the 500-square-foot store it was in 1985 into the 10,000-square-foot music wonderland it is today. With countless listening stations and riveting in-store performances, the shop puts a high premium on musical discovery.
[1534 Bardstown Rd.,]

Best Place To Run Into A Neville Brother At The Register
A roots-lover’s dream with no Top 40 to be found. Instead, racks and racks of Gulf South blues, gospel, soul, Cajun/zydeco, R&B and swamp pop, plus obscure local bands’ CDs on consignment. Browsing the “New Orleans Music” section, which takes up half the square footage by itself, is equivalent to a graduate-level education on the origins of American music. In true NOLA style, in-stores with free beer most weekends.
[210 Decatur St.,]

The Most Likely Spot to Find Your Boxing Nun, Motörhead T-Shirt, and Sheila Divine Exclusive Under One Roof
For nearly 30 years, Newbury Comics has tastefully housed an expansive collection of music alongside all the toys, trinkets and über-geeky McFarlane replicas you can shake a lightsaber at. With great local-music compilations and live discs from nearby venues, the store offers an accessible window into the world of indie culture.
[332 Newbury St.,]

Best Record Joint at Which to Score Super-DL Mixes
Mostly stocked with DJ equipment, the storefront also carries a small, extraordinary range of CDs. Get the latest Ghostface mix, or grey-market bootlegs filled with everything from superfans’ multi-disc tributes to Brazilian master Jorge Ben, to DJ Soul Punk’s CD-Rs devoted to Denim, Leather and Breakbeats.
[120 E. 7th St.,]

Best Place To See Black Rebel Motorcycle Club From Two Feet Away While Sipping A Cold Miller Lite
Grimey’s is a community record store in the truest sense of the word. The Southeast’s premier vinyl emporium regularly brings Nashville together with intimate in-store performances (the likes of BRMC and Matisyahu have graced its tiny alcove stage) and weekly “Beer Thirty” listening parties, all carefully planned by a friendly and approachable staff.
[1604 8th Ave. S.,]

Best Place To Get Staggered By Musical Options And Terrified By The Giant Cardboard Pink Robot Previously Fought By Yoshimi
Smelling of incense, the original Electric Fetus (others exist in Duluth and St. Cloud) at 4th and Franklin Avenues sports a staggering selection and an intense staff to back it up. From a substantial local section to a listening station dedicated solely to metal, the Fetus thoroughly covers every genre imaginable. There’s a reason this place is celebrating 40 years in 2008.
[2000 4th Ave. S.,]

Best Place To Spot World-Renowned Crate Diggers—And Nab a Bargain At The Same Time
With millions of records in stock (no CDs, thanks), Jerry’s is a must-see on the crate-digger’s itinerary—whether you’re a bedroom sampler or DJ Jazzy Jeff. While you’re filling out your collection of Dirtbombs or R.E.M. albums ($4 each!), someone else is searching for samples or a mint rarity to reissue: Specialty labels like Jazzman and Rhino scour Jerry’s stable for both business and pleasure.
[2136 Murray Ave.,]

[CONTRIBUTING: Andy Beta, Corey duBrowa, Alison Fensterstock, Justin Hopper, Brian Howe, Josh Jackson, Jesse Jarnow, Jason Killingsworth, Steve LaBate, Jeff Leven, Nick Marino, David Mead, Matt Price, Austin L. Ray, Jaan Uhelszki, Douglas Wolk]

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