record stores

Be Boppin – Westfield, NY

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Bot­tom Line: Make a Trip
Price: 5/5
Selec­tion: 4/5
Atmos­phere: 5/5

BeBoppin4This is not your typical record store, it a cross between an antique store, junk store, record shop and your coolest friends house. John has amassed a massive amount of records and is willing to part with most of them. Listen to our conversation with owner John Stratton on The Single v. 15.

When you walk in the door of the big old house, there is a jukebox on the right and knickknacks piled everywhere, or what he calls “memories”. Sometimes there are a few crates of records at the base of the stairs or in the room to the left with the cash register and wood burning fireplace he uses to heat the first floor in the winter. The walls are filled with rock posters and framed album covers of people like Arthur Lee, Moondog, Jon Spencer, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Man or Astroman. The majority of the first floor includes a sporadic but interesting curation of vintage artifacts. A first time visitor may stop after a walking through a few rooms on the ground floor, and be happy to flip through a 100 or so records in boxes lying around. Don’t make that mistake!

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Ask John if you can go downstairs or upstairs to check out the records. As long as your are not an asshole, he will say yes and turn on the lights and give you a tour. The basement is filled with racks and shelves of LPs and 45s. Most of the records are organized by genre, but you never know what you might find.

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Once you finished in the basement, take a walk up to the second floor and dig the 2-3 rooms of wall-to-wall vinyl. Prices are always fair, but don’t start flipping shit online or you won’t be allowed back in the door. This store is worth the trip. Tell John, you found him on Hoolu and Wayne from Vinylminers sent you.

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Great Escape Records – Nashville, TN

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Bot­tom Line: Don’t Go Out of the Way
Price: 2/5
Selec­tion: 3/5
Atmos­phere: 2/5

Great Escape Records has four locations around Nashville, Bowling Green and Louisville. For decades the stores have been dealing records, tapes, CDs and books in the area. The store is the standard 80’s-90’s big box music shop style, this particular location had a large quantity of vinyl, but seemed to be more focuses on games and comics. In the general stacks, there were some decent records, but also a lot of common stuff. The bluegrass section was probably my favorite part of the store, I found a few interesting regional artists.

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They also had a small box (50-80) of “collectable” albums behind the counter. Many of these were Beatles and Zeppelin, and some other interesting stuff. I was happy to find a copy of Hawkwind Space Ritual, the price was good, but not great, about what you would pay on Discogs or eBay. I typically like to buy records in the “wild”, but made a rookie mistake and checked the vinyl and not the sleeve. When I opened the fold out sleeve a few days later, I found it was full of mold and funk. I was a little disappointed to pay top dollar for a record that the resellers didn’t even take the time to clean it up a bit.

I would stop by again, if I was in the area, but won’t go out of the way to make a trip.

 

Lost Weekend Records – Columbus, Oh

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Bot­tom Line: Make a Trip

Price: 4/5
Selec­tion: 4/5
Atmos­phere: 5/5

Lost Weekend Records is located in Columbus Ohio, just north of downtown and near Ohio State University. I love stores near universities because there always seems to be an unpredictable selection of eclectic used albums. The shop is on the ground floor of a big old house. When you first walk in you will find a nice selection of recent arrivals, which appears to be pretty active, there were several nice albums in the boxes during my trip.
The rest of the genre bins are located in a few small rooms throughout the ground floor. There are plenty of records and the space feels cozy but with enough room for several people to dig.
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I have to say the best part of the store is the owner Kyle and a stream or regular clientele coming through the shop. Kyle is very knowledgable about the local music scene and the records in his shop.
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Jerry’s Records – Pittsburgh, PA

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I would bet that every vinyl collector in a 100 mile radius has been to Jerry’s (or at least really wants to go). I’ve made this trek thousands of times, and recently recorded a podcast episode with Jerry.  When you first walk in the building and climb the 1 1/2 story stair case you will be greeted by stacks and boxes of fresh acquisitions and castoffs for the next vinyl giveaway (which contains more vinyl than the entire inventory of other records shops I frequent), turn the corner and enter the main room. This is were the fun begins.
It is amazing with amount of pressure and exposure, there are still a ton of great records to find and explore, but it can also be an intimidating place to dig, with towering walls of vinyl, rooms and secret cubbies, rows and rows of bins, and thousands of boxes of 45’s.
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Here are my tips for digging at Jerry’s.
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  1. Unless you have an encyclopedic memory, I would make a list of some of the more interesting records your are looking for; think of things most other people aren’t looking for.
  2. Expand the genres you look for. The popular genres like rock, punk and soul get a lot of action (though you can still find good records), consider looking beyond the high traffic sections and explore some blues, bluegrass, gospel, instrumental and even comedy. You can find some real gems.
  3. Don’t expect to find the classics. Jerry’s carries all used vinyl at reasonable priJerrys-08ces (typically between $5 – $8) with high traffic, so The Beatles, Clash, Marley, Pink Floyd, Dylan, Stones are going out as fast as they are coming in, and more obscure bands like Joy Division rarely last 10 minutes on the shelves. With that said, you can get lucky if your timing is right, always check the new arrival bins first. You never know what you might find, but usually there is something good, especially mid-week during the day.
  4. Collectables are very limited. Jerry’s does not have a high priced or collectables section, so it is not a place to expect to go and drop $50 to $200 on a rare record. Jerry wants to get music on to turntables, not vinyl into cases. Don’t expect to dig up some rare gem like the Chocolate Watch Band, but the shelves are stocked with odd, interesting and unique records. Spend some time exploring and getting out of your comfort zone.

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Hopefully you find this info useful and get a chance to explore the shop sometime. Every time  I’m in the area I like to drop in an spend a little time soaking it all in, great people and great atmosphere. It is worth the trip, but I would budget an hour at least and possibly four or five.

Additional Information

 

 

Monster Music & Movies – Charleston, SC

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Monster Music is a legacy remaining from an era of large music and film department stores. They do a good job of making it feel like (and maybe it is) a small independent shop. The store carries a large selection of new and used vinyl, along with CD’s and DVD’s.
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The environment is spacious and records are organized into various categories. The used stock had plenty of quality records, but the prices were fair (or a little on the high side for me), so I only looked for records I knew I wanted to purchase – and had a price in mind I was willing to pay. Unfortunately, I did not find anything that fit those criteria.

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The shop has a listening station (need to provide ID to get the needle), so I tested out a few albums that appeared to be interesting, but didn’t find any I could not live without.

I’ll stop back in the store when I visit Charleston again.

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Gallery of Sound – Wilkes-Barre, PA

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Bottom Line: Stop if Near By

Price: 4/5
Selection: 2/5
Atmosphere: 3/5

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The Gallery of Sound is a throw back, and I’ll bet legacy, independent music store, located in Wilkes-Barre PA. It is a classic “mall” music store with CD’s, DVD’s, records and various band merchandise. When you walk in it feels fairly large and spacious. I would guess at some point the record inventory was completely wiped out, but is now back. The Gallery has a couple rows of used records, I would guess between 3000 – 5000, mainly in the rock genre. It would be easy to flip through all the used LPs in 30 minutes. The selection was a bit common, but the prices were very reasonable. I’m guessing they get better stuff and it disappears quickly. They also had a few hundred new LPs, and I found the best stuff in the discounted new record bin, which contained dead stock from previous record store days.

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I took a chance on Tom Rush’s fourth album Circle Game and Bob Seger’s Seventh album Seven. I’m not a huge fan of either artists, but the hoped the Seger album was far enough away from Night Moves and Against the Wind and the Rush was early enough to contain interesting folk rock. I also picked up a new reissue of The Soft Boys – Can of Bees for $11. Can’t beat that.

Overall, I would go back to the Gallery of Sound if I lived near by, or was driving past the exit (located 2 minutes off Interstate 81), but would not go too far out of my way to visit the shop.

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Cheapo Records – Cambridge, MA

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Cheapo Records is located in the heart of Cambridge, MA, in between MIT and Harvard.  I’m sure the students at these universities are a large reason why Cheapo has been around since 1954. As you walk up to the store, sound rolls out onto the sidewalk. Entering the building the sound becomes muffled and you immediately feel the history, there is stuff everywhere. The space is long and narrow and I found the records to be well organized by genre. It has a nice little (400-600) records in a recent arrival bin on the right side. Rock, soul and a small reggae section are near the front of the store. The back had new reggae and hip-hop 12 inch singles and LPs, along with folk and bluegrass. I’m sure I’m missing some genres. The prog and pysch rock was in a separate section. Behind the counter was a large wall of 45’s.

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Cheapo primarily has vinyl, but there were also CD’s and tapes. The staff were friendly and it was fairly active on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon. I had a difficult time leaving the Sun Kil Moon – Tiny Cities LP in the new arrival bin, but could not get past the $60 price tag. I’m sure it was a fair price, but not a bargain. I think most of the records would fall in the same category, fair priced but not bargains. It would be a difficult destination store for me, but if I lived in the area I would probably be a regular. I’m sure they continue to find some really interesting and rare material.

The characteristic I enjoyed the most about the store was it felt like a community. The three (yes, three) people working that day seemed happy and enjoyed talking about music and vinyl with the customers. From that aspect it is an ideal record store, a place to go, talk and learn.

I hope Cheapo is around for another 50 years.

Here are a few records that caught my eye, but I left behind. I wish they had a listening station.

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Mind Cure Records – Pittsburgh

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Here is a shot of Mind Cure Records, a nice little joint tucked away in Polish Hill. It is a newer shop, but it has solid new and used records. The space is small but well curated. A nice collection of Folkways recordings and Peel Sessions LPs recently arrived before my last visit. I wish I had more change in my pocket. The store has a strong selection of punk, metal and indie artists.

The owner does a nice job of curating rare and obscure rock, punk and metal artists. The blog is a good place to hunt for new “old” music.

 

Rock and Roll Heaven – Orlando, FL

The shop is a surprising large space, based on the strip-mall storefront, with an impressive inventory. I’m guessing there are tens of thousands of records to nose through. Each genre (rock, soul, punk, indie, psych/garage, reggae, jazz, country) shelves are bountiful. I found a lot of classic LPs I wish I had in my collection. It seems like the store has a good customer base, it was fairly active on a Saturday afternoon, and the shelves contained a solid mix of original, new releases and re-issues of classic rare albums. The staff members were both humorous and helpful.

This is the kind of store I hope can survive a long time, it is also the kind of store that has me questioning my record collecting philosophy. I started buying records because it was the cheapest way to listen to and learn new music, over the years my interest has switched to amassing a tangible representation of my musical tastes. It is now much cheaper to download the .MP3 than to buy the LP, but still at the core of my collecting habit is finding a deal, or at the very least is not overpaying for records. It can be very difficult to archive, the market is continuously fluctuating and sometimes my interests in the music overpowers my thriftiness.

Another core principle I try to honor is supporting independent music stores. I like them, I want to see them around the next time I’m in town or looking to buy a record, with that said, and as much as I hate to admit it, eBay and Discogs set the market. I don’t buy a lot of records online, but I don’t want to grossly overpay just because something is in my hands. I understand the brick and mortar shop incurs additional expenses to order to stay afloat, but they need to find the middle ground between the international market and their balance sheet.

The biggest knock against Rock & Roll Heaven I have, is it is grossly overpriced across the board. I could not find a deal I was willing to pull the trigger on in the shop. I went in expecting to spend $60-$100, but walked out empty handed. Some record stores I visit are overpriced in some areas (new, used, collectible), or with particular artists (Beatles, Bowie, Love, Clash) or genres (Psych, Reggae, Soul), I get it – that is were they can make their money, but there usually is an opportunity to find something of value if you look close enough. Often the recent arrivals bin is a good source for a deal, I could not find a recent bin at Rock & Roll Heaven. I find some record stores start to resemble museums, they have a tremendous selection of music, often including artists and albums which are generally absent or empty in most stores. The high prices help to maintain the level of inventory, preventing the most popular LPs from leaving the store. Rock & Roll Heaven is close to museum status. I’m sure they sell their fair share of new releases and find some collectors to pick up rare LPs. Here is an example of a record I would have liked to purchase, but the price difference was too high – R&R Heaven had two copies of Dennis Brown’s Wolves and Leopards, one was $50 the other was $60. A quick eBay search revealed a copy with zero bids at $7.99 and three between $14.99 – $17.99 buy it now, all original releases. At $25 the record is sold to me at R&R Heaven, but I could not justify the tremendous difference in price. Most records which were not “commons” were priced between $20 – $35. It could also be the case that Orlando has a very committed and aggressive vinyl community, in that case – more power to Rock & Roll Haven and Rock On!

 

It took me 1.5 hours each way to get to the shop using the bus, but on the bright side I found a few Anole’s at the bus stop.

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Papa Jazz Records – Colombia, SC

It took a pit stop in Colombia South Carolina to hit up Papa Jazz records. The shop has carved out a nice following of collectors over several decades in heart of downtown Colombia, South Carolina – and was surprisingly active for a Friday afternoon. Overall the the store has a good, reasonably priced, used selection. I saw several LPs which took me a while to find (Love, Stranglers – No More Hereos, and Blue Cheer), in the recent arrival bin. A very promising sign of a good store. They also have a crate or two of new LPs.

On this trip I opted for a used copy of Mark Ronson Version and Those Lavender Whiles, a local band the store clerk recommended and was kind enough to play a few sample cuts – indie sunshine pop.

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Rochester Vinyl Shops

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I made a trip around the NY Finger Lakes and spent an afternoon in Rochester exploring a few of the record shops. The city has several vinyl outlets, but I only had enough time to visit two.

The first was the Record Archive. It is a massive warehouse of music. As I opened the car door the guitar riffs from War Pigs filled the air. Outdoor speakers are a big plus in the record store world. The store is a giant room field with music and the vinyl comprises the back 1/3 of the space. The three walls in the vinyl section are covered with huge shelves about six or seven rows high. Most of the albums are in seperated by genre, with strong section of rock and soul. A large portion of the content is in the “huge deals” bin (discounted to $2 an lp based on quantity). I did not spend too much time in the deal section, but it looked like a good place to fill out your collection.

The store also has a nice “new arrivals” bin. I usually start in this section because it is the best chance to pick something unique up that the local regulars might not have been able to mine yet.

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The next stop was the House of Guitars. A friend of my told me they had a few records downstairs, so I should stop by if I was in the area. I was expecting a few boxes in a tiny basement. As you can see from the photos, the record and music space is expansive and bountyful. The House of Guitars is very impressive overall. It is a large old house that has been crammed full of instruments. When you walk in the front door you will see rows of guitar cabinets that reach to top of the 20 ft ceilings. There are guitars hung everywhere and each row must have 30-50 guitars in it. Space is at a preimium, as it is difficult to pass someone as you walk down the row. There is also an entire back portion that is full of amps, it’s like a little lego amp village.

Overall I love the independent nature and complete dedication to music the store offers, but from a vinyl perspective it was a little frustrating. There were randomly placed boxes of records throughout the store containing random lps. It seemed very odd. There would be Yes, Jim Croce, a hundred Crosby & Stills and then Chemical Brothers and then back to 50 prog rock lps. One section had a table of lps, but there were boxes on the floor so far out it was very difficult to reach the table. Also, non of the records were priced, so it makes for selection difficult.

I don’t mind a little chaos when digging, actually I prefer it, but this was a little overwhelming. I only had an hour, so I may have different opinion if I spent a day.

The trip was a success and I will return to both shops and seek out the rest of the Rochesters vinyl haunts in the future.

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