The record store is a home away from home for Travis Ritter. Whether he dips in daily to flip through the new arrivals of a shop, or spend hours on the floor sifting through bargain bins, the Seattle-based record collector, DJ, and Fresh Chalker is always on the hunt for vinyl wherever he goes. Since working the first nationwide Record Store Day in 2008, he has seen the vinyl resurgence explode, especially among the generation raised on the iPod. The growth in popularity can be seen especially well on Record Store Day, when young budding record collectors join their elders at their favorite local record stores. With so many exclusives, reissues, and fancy, limited boxsets released, it can be a shop’s busiest sales day of the year. To celebrate Record Store Day (Saturday, June 12 and Saturday July 17), Travis has put together a guide to some of his favorite record stores across America, discovered over his 20-plus years of collecting vinyl.... more
One of Seattle’s newest record shops opened in Lake City in January 2020, just in time for a pandemic! Despite that, this wonderful store persevered (thanks to servicing online orders with curbside pick-up and a very loyal customer base of Seattle rock legends). Today, they’re still going strong. Though it is relatively small, the shop is well-stocked with all kinds of hot new LP titles from all the indie rock heavy hitters, as well as an abundance of reissues culled from obscurity and a great used LP section and walls lined with rarities. On top of that, they have a few shelves of books, zines and more, curated by one of the co-owners who has an extensive resume in the publishing world. No matter what you’re looking for, it’s impossible to leave this shop empty handed.
Amoeba is the mother of all independent record stores, hands down. Absolutely the best selection of new and very modestly priced used LPs, CDs, and DVD/Blueray in this country. After closing their Los Angeles’ Sunset Blvd. location last year (which opened in 2001), they just reopened their new space this year a few blocks away on Hollywood Blvd. The LA Amoeba is where you’re almost guaranteed to run into some musician or celebrity browsing through the records. If you spot a staff member with a video camera following them around, they might be filming for Amoeba’s popular “What’s In My Bag” series on YouTube. Four hours inside Amoeba might sound like a lot of time, but even those who dig open to close still leave plenty of bins untouched.
When I visited Harvest a few years ago, I felt like I was walking into Seattle’s Sonic Boom, a store I was fortunate to work at for a few years. Everything about it was familiar, in that it had a very diverse, well-stocked inventory of new vinyl, as well as a surprisingly awesome sale bin with some leftover RSD titles that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere on the west coast. The shop has been participating in RSD from its early days, so collectors swarm here on RSD. Really cool shop I hope to get back to some day.
Since taking over former record store spaces in both SF (Aquarius Records) and East Village in Manhattan (Good Records), Stranded has become quite the vinyl destination. The shops, which are home to the awesome reissue label Superior Viaduct, are catered more to the esoteric and arty side of the music spectrum, with an incredible jazz section, as well as pressings in the post-punk vein.
Sound Exchange was just blocks away from my apartment when I moved to the Montrose neighborhood of Houston 20 years ago, so it was the first one I visited. Almost immediately, I knew it was special. The owners Kurt and Kevin are record store lifers, and their witty little sticker descriptions on recommended picks turned me on to so much incredible music. And they have a great used selection where you can always find a cool bargain (the amount of records in my collection with green Sound Ex price tags is staggering). They’ve since relocated to a neighborhood east of downtown, but the new location is much more spacious and brighter than the creaky old house it previously inhabited, where heavy metal made the walls and floorboards vibrate.
The Live Music Capital of the World has no shortage of amazing record shops, but End of an Ear has always been my go-to. They tend to focus more on the eccentric stuff than the common rock staples, but as with most shops that do it right, they have something for everyone, no matter what media format you’re after. One of the rarest records in my collection came from End of an Ear (this could be because Austin also hosts one of the biggest annual record conventions in the country). If you’re a electronic/synth music fan like I am, they have one of the better synth/wave sections I’ve ever come across.
Like Austin, Portland also has no shortage of amazing used record stores. And Clinton Street, owned and operated the jolliest party DJ in town, is always blowing my mind (and budget) with a wild variety of top-tier tunes. With so many touring DJs rolling into Clinton Street over the years, you can expect all kinds of amazing soul, funk and jazz records, as well as a great selection of reggae and dub, world tunes, country music, and loads of ‘80s and alternative sounds. And if you need a receiver, turntable or speakers to listen to your records, Clinton Street has a great selection of quality-guaranteed components that have been serviced and refurbished.
Denver’s first home of alternative music opened in the mid 70s and became the cultural centerpiece for glam rockers and punks to find imported releases of all their favorite bands that were never carried anywhere else in town (or in the state for that matter). It has a fascinating history that helped bring industrial and EBM (electronic body music) to the masses of America with the shop’s own Wax Trax record label after the owners sold the Denver location to its current owners in 1978 and relocated to Chicago (I highly recommend you view the Wax Trax documentary Industrial Accident).
The Big Easy branch of Euclid Records boasts an incredible, mind-boggling collection of classic LPs for every discerning music fan. You can expect a ton of rock and hip hop, but if you’re into country or jazz, this is one of the best spots around to pick up old 78s and LPs with deep New Orleans roots. And carve out plenty of time to peruse their 45 singles collection. It might feel a little intimidating at first, but dig enough and you’ll find some real gems.
Full disclosure: I worked at Sonic Boom when the first RSD happened in 2008. But Sonic Boom has always been the local shop to hit on RSD, with loyal customers forming lines in the early morning hours. They have a pretty wide-ranging selection of RSD-exclusive releases and fill the used new arrival bins with loads of cool and desirable used records just for that day. I am always surprised by the amount of incredible marked down records in the sale bins (I guess I have the taste for obscure records people don’t want).