What makes a record store cool? Is it an obscure collection of vinyl, a storied history, a coffee shop within the store that brews third-wave coffee, or the fact Prince shopped there? All of these can factor into the coolness, but also how indie record stores continue to prosper despite operating in an era when physical media sales are in decline. (Vinyl and cassette tapes have increased in sales, though.) Whether your favorite record store made the list or not, be sure to support your local store during the annual Record Store Day, a sort of Christmas for music fans, which will occur on April 13, 2019.
1. Amoeba Records // San Francisco, Berkeley, and Hollywood, California
In 1990, Amoeba Records opened its first of three locations, in Berkeley. In 1997 it expanded to San Francisco, and in 2001 it opened its largest location—at 24,000 square feet, it takes up an entire city block—on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. As the largest independent record store in the world, Amoeba’s two floors house millions of used and new vinyl, CDs, DVDs, video games, and a jazz room. Every week, bands and artists—including well-known acts—play free shows here. Currently, the neon-inflected Amoeba remains Sunset Strip’s only record store (Tower Records shuttered in 2006), so it’s helping to keep the city’s music spirit alive.
2. Reckless Records // Chicago
For more than 30 years, Chicago via London’s Reckless Records has maintained high standards, operating three stores in the city: Loop, Lakeview, and its most iconic location, Wicker Park. Supposedly, Reckless inspired High Fidelity’s Championship Vinyl (though the exteriors were shot at a storefront down the street from Reckless). Gentrification and rising rents in Wicker Park haven’t deterred Reckless; in 2015, the business moved a few doors down to a more spacious storefront. As head music buyer Matt Jencik said, “We take pride in stocking everything from, say, the new Beyoncé CD to a cassette by an up-and-coming local artist to a reissue of a mostly unknown African psychedelic rock band or an obscure techno 12-inch.” And even selling a rare Spice Girls 12-inch. (Though it was just announced that its Lakeview location will be moving after 30 years in the same spot.)
3. Herzog Music // Cincinnati
From 1945 to 1955, in downtown Cincy, the E.T. Herzog Recording Co. recorded now-classics like Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Herzog, along with King Records, established Cincinnati as a recording destination, not just a radio town. In 2015, the historical spot opened as Herzog Music, selling a small selection of used vinyl, instruments, books, and hosting in-store performances. People can tour the upstairs, where all the magic happened in the 1940s and ’50s. Today, the space acts as a music school, with paraphernalia from famed musicians on display.
4. Rough Trade Records // New York City
In 1976, the UK-based record label Rough Trade opened its first record store; in 2013, the first Rough Trade in the U.S. opened, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Topping out at 15,000 square feet, it not only became the biggest record store in New York—but also Rough Trade’s biggest store. They sell new music with an emphasis on UK imports, and the mezzanine sells a wide variety of books. Besides selling records, they also house a small coffee shop and a ticketed music venue, which books local and international acts.
5. Sweat Records // Miami
To find the store, just look for its exterior “Wall of Idolatry” mural, which showcases a panoply of musicians, from MF Doom to the Gorillaz’ Noodle and Murdoc to Billie Holiday to Notorious B.I.G. Inside, Sweat Records sells records in one section and runs a small café by the entrance. The menu consists of vegan pastries and fun specialty drinks like the Unicorn Love Bomb (a double shot of espresso topped with vegan marshmallows) and the Devastator (four shots of espresso from local roaster Panther Coffee). Somehow getting jacked up on caffeine enhances the record-shopping experience.
6. Purple Llama // Chicago
The name Purple Llama should be enough to get you to go. The Wicker Park shop fuses craft coffee and vinyl, but in an atypical way. They feature roasters from all over the world—including Norway, London, Colorado, and New York City—and serve specially lattes or pour overs alongside selling new and old vinyl in the store. They also offer an exclusive coffee and vinyl subscription: Each month, a vinyl record and a bag of coffee are sent to you (or held to be picked up in-store). Just like Forrest Gump with his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.
7. Vinyl Tap // Nashville
In this day and age, it’s hard for a business to be one thing, which is why it’s nice when a business combines two or more things. Case in point: Vinyl Tap in Nashville is part beer bar (the tap part) and part record store. They sell new and used vinyl and have local and regional craft beers on draft (“wax and drafts”). Peruse their small vinyl selection while drinking a beer, or take a seat at the bar and order one of their musical-themed sandwiches, such as The Morrissey (vegan, of course), New Bomb Turkey (named after Columbus, Ohio punk band New Bomb Turks), or The Cure.
8. Electric Fetus // Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota
The oddly named record store (National Lampoon once named it the worst name for a business) opened in 1968 and has been going strong ever since. Some weird history includes its Streakers’ Sale, in which customers could take whatever they wanted for free just as long as they shopped naked. Today, they sell new and used records from mainstream acts, classic acts, and “the newest blog hype.” Hometown hero Prince shopped here all the time, including less than a week before his death, on what happened to be Record Store Day. (The shop sells Prince varsity jackets.) Electric Fetus isn’t just records, though. They also sell clothing, housewares, and novelty gifts, and they’ll purchase your old records, CDs, and DVDs, too.
9. Hail Dark Aesthetics // Nashville, Tennessee and Covington, Kentucky
Located in MainStrasse Village, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Hail Dark Aesthetics is tucked away in an unassuming strip that’s riddled with fairly normal restaurants and bars. Once inside, you’ll soon discover nothing is normal anymore. As their website states, Hail Dark Aesthetics exists “to satisfy all your weirdo needs.” They have that in spades, from offering records from bands named Spider Vomit to “normal” records from artists like Hank Williams Jr. They also sell occult items, books on witchcraft, horror films on VHS, medical equipment, and animal bones. If taxidermy—or things that were once alive but now are preserved in jars—make you squeamish, don’t go here. But if you’re into that kind of stuff, you’ll feel right at home. Also visit their first location, in Nashville.
10. A Separate Reality Records // Cleveland, Ohio
In 2013, right before the vinyl boom, Augustus Payne opened A Separate Reality after selling records on the road and at conventions for four years. Having a brick-and-mortar shop gives him an outlet to sell his more than 150,000 vintage records, which includes every genre imaginable, but with an emphasis on rare psychedelic, progressive, soul, jazz, and blues. It’s a crate diggers’ dream come true. The store also buys used collections, because you never can have too many records.
11. Graveface Records and Curiosities // Savannah, Georgia
Ryan Graceface, who plays guitar in the band Black Moth Super Rainbow, founded Graveface the label in 2000 and opened the record store in 2012. They specialize in new and used vinyl (including selling records from their artists), cocktail supplies, horror soundtrack reissues, and taxidermy (apparently, stuffed dead animals and vinyl go together). They have a knack for purchasing original or first pressings from record collectors, so they always have something exciting to sell. A Charleston, South Carolina store is the works, but for now you can visit the pop-ups they do around town.
12. Easy Street Records // Seattle
Since 1988, Easy Street’s been the fabric of Seattle’s music scene. They sell vinyl reissues, new and used records, host live shows, and even sell MP3s. Known as “the best little record store, coffee bar, and diner in West Seattle,” Easy Street’s more than just a record store. Dishes at their daytime café are named after musicians and songs. Offerings include a vegetarian Beck Omelet, James Brown hash browns, Frances Farmer French toast, Dolly Parton stack (of pancakes, that is), Green Day salad, and a Mama Cass ham sandwich (rumor has it she died choking on a ham sandwich).
13. Used Kids Records // Columbus, Ohio
Columbus is filled with great record stores—Magnolia Thunderpussy, Lost Weekend, Spoonful—but Used Kids has survived a fire, rapid changes in the music industry, changes in ownership, and a relocation. And it’s still going full throttle. Dan Dow and Ron House (founder of local band Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments) opened Used Kids in 1986, near the Ohio State campus. It became the nexus for the music community, so much so that employees Jerry Wick and Bela Koe-Krompecher founded Anyway Records in the store’s basement. Used Kids sells “rare and unusual records,” but they also want to appeal to everyone. “I’ve always said, ‘I want to be the best record store between New York City and Chicago.’ That’s always been the goal,” current owner Greg Hall told Ohio Magazine. How about the best and the coolest?