was almost 17 when I finally passed my driving test, and there was reason for celebration. We’d hit the town Friday night, Eric and I, in a lipstick red Mercury Topaz. But we didn’t have girls to take out, we were too young to even get into the under-21 dance clubs.
We went instead to Desirable Discs, a thriving independent record store in the metro-Detroit area with three locations. We went to the first, drove twenty minutes to the next. Blew some money on a Deftones t-shirt and a Braid split. It was 1998. Such were the times.
Desirable Discs closed its final location several years ago with little fanfare. The loss wasn’t great—Detroit has numerous record shops, and in recent years my taste had evolved. But the entire experience seems surreal now; 16, Eric, Desirable Discs. It’ll appear moreso to legions of 16 year-olds-to-be. Independent record shops aren’t yet extinct, but they’re increasingly rare, pushed out by a downtick in the industry, an uptick in downloads, and pricing strategies unavailable to niche market record providers.
The over-indulgent, under-funded music fans of America (and if you’re reading this, welcome to the club) grew up in these shops. We have some of our best moments there, moments not always directly related to record buying. Below, Stylus pays tribute to some of our favorite shops. Many of these stores are thriving, and we’re grateful. Some have moved on. Here’s our five-part guide to the best of what’s out there, the little communities that have sold us our lives, $13 at a time.
Part II: South
Part III: Midwest
Part IV: West
Part V: International
11600 Detroit Ave
Cleveland, OH 44102
About: Founded in the fall of 1995 by local music lover John Cellura (who has run the place basically single-handedly ever since), Bent Crayon manages to pack a healthy amount of indie, electronic, and experimental CDs and the area’s widest selection of vinyl into a small corner shop on Cleveland’s West Side, as well as doing a wealth of business through its Web site.
Specialty: Though there is a very respectable indie section (in fact, the best in the Cleveland area), Bent Crayon’s specialty is undoubtedly electronic dance music, and the latest cutting-edge European and domestic labels (Kompakt, Trapez, etc.) and everything in-between are available in force, as well as a very solid selection of back catalog.
What They’re Missing: Major labels are notably absent (except for imports and vinyl), but it isn’t like you’d miss them. They could also stand another turntable for listening purposes—there’s only one, and you could end up waiting a long time to use it behind the wrong customer.
Why We Love It: When Cellura founded the store more than a decade ago, the cards were stacked against him. There were a host of other indie-minded stores around, and the local press and hipster gossips were equally divided between loving and hating Bent Crayon—and Cellura himself, whom many labeled snobbish. Cellura gets the last laugh, however, as he has outlasted the rest of the shops and is now the only game in town. Say what you will about his personality, Cellura knows his music and his devoted clientele, and that is what has kept him in business while the larger, flashier stores have wilted.
1155 N. High Street
Columbus, OH 43201
About: Founded in 1970, Magnolia Thunderpussy is one of the longest-running independent record stores in the country. Despite being south of the campus area, it does fine—it’s located between two of the cities most well-traveled music venues: High Five and Little Brother’s.
Specialty: If you simply went to the store’s MySpace page, they might have you believe that they’re a vendor simply interested in getting you whatever you’d like. But with the amount of goth, metal, and EBM shirts lining the walls and a quick perusal of their weekly top sellers, it becomes quickly apparent that the store specializes in anything “dark.”
What They’re Missing: While Magnolia pays lip service to the idea of used CDs, they’re easily outclassed by the nearby Used Kids. Additionally, if you’re looking for anything dance-y that isn’t on Metropolis Records, you might want to look elsewhere.
Why We Love It: Much like Mallory O’Donnell’s favorite, Café Soundz, Magnolia caters to one demographic incredibly well. While they do have a nice selection of many genres, they have a bread and butter and stick to it.
1980 N. High Street
Columbus, OH 43201
About: Owned by Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments lead singer Ron House, Used Kids is the record store for discerning Ohio State students. Located outside of the recently renovated “Gateway” area, the store retains a charming old Columbus charm. Or is that stink?
Specialty: Used CDs. While the store is more than happy to stock the newest indie rock releases on CD and vinyl, Used Kids (as the namely clearly indicates) is primarily a haven for those looking for a deal on a classic—or a promo copy dropped off by a local writer. The secret to a successful experience? Go in without a plan and let yourself be surprised.
What They’re Missing: The hip-hop is thin, but the main sore spot is electronic music. After having a paltry selection for a long time, the last time that I went into the store I couldn’t find the section at all.
Why We Love It: With a huge turnover, cheap prices, and an unpretentious staff, Used Kids is Columbus in a nutshell.
436 State Street
Madison, WI 53703
About: Nestled in a small alcove on State Street, the main artery running directly between the Capitol building and the University of Wisconsin’s Library Mall, B-Side Records has been supplying college kids and campus visitors in Madison since 1982.
Specialty: In addition to a well-stocked indie and classic-rock selection (both requisites on the youth-and-granola-friendly campus), B-Side also carries an impressive collection of R&B, soul, and jazz, arranging discs by genre in sturdy wooden crates arranged in strategic, Tetra-esque locations throughout. Can’t find something? Look below or above you: lesser-known discs by popular artists are often kept underneath the crates or on shelves affixed to the wall (I completed my J.J. Cale and Savoy Brown collections in college by digging down a little closer to the carpet).
What They’re Missing: Due to size constraints it’s impossible for B-Side to house the entire catalog of most any band, even your most beloved. You’re oftentimes just as likely to find a piece of arcana as you are a classic, but they’re cool about ordering what they don’t have in stock.
Why We Love It: The staff: A variety of laid-back aficionados are regularly found behind the counter, proof positive that not all people working in independent record stores are supercilious dicks. Years after I finished school there, many of the same knowledgeable staff remain, ready to ring you up while chatting about most any sonic subject. You have to love any small store that inspires that kind of employee loyalty.
1532 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
About: With another store situated in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, the Wicker Park location is doubtlessly the store’s flagship, if for no other reason than the neighborhood. Catering to the area’s famous (or infamous) hipster scenesters, Reckless is a competent, if somewhat disheveled, way post for Chicago music lovers.
Specialty: Completeness. There’s a little bit of something for everyone in here, from indispensable CD’s and LP’s in virtually any genre to music magazines, concert tickets, rock memorabilia and obscure DVD’s.
What They’re Missing: Organization. No doubt due to the threat of shoplifting in the area, Reckless removes all CD’s and jewel cases from albums, leaving only the covers for customers to flip through. The result is that albums often get placed virtually anywhere, sometimes never to return to their rightful home. I’m no neat-freak, but if you suffer from OCD-like symptoms, you might want to go elsewhere, as finding what you’re looking for can be a frustrating effort in futility.
Why We Love It: In addition to a host of well-informed staff working behind the counter, Reckless tries to make sure its clientele remain similarly well-informed. Album covers oftentimes have a succinct review and trustworthy rating appended to them. I have more than once been turned on to artists about whom I knew nothing simply by poring over the attached mini-reviews in their ‘featured’ section above the pop/rock aisle.
Dusty Groove America
1120 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
About: Simply put, if you’re looking to get your groove on in the Midwest, you need to visit this store. Dusty Groove America is a wonderland of all things funky and smooth, with lots and lots of new and used vinyl and a healthy selection of CDs. Also a fantastic Web site for mail order peeps.
Specialty: Soul, R&B, jazz, funk, etc., and lots of it, from the classics to the obscure and everywhere in-between. Dusty Groove also carries one of North America’s best selections of Brazilian music.
What They’re Missing: While Dusty Groove is a fabulous place to engage in a few hours of obscure crate digging, their selection of popular standards of the genre (like say, Stevie Wonder’s back catalog) is occasionally a little thin, especially on CD. Hardly a complaint, though. Also, expect to pay collector’s prices for some items, but nothing excessive or outrageous.
Why We Love It: The vinyl is generally in amazing shape, the store is kept clean, the staff are knowledgeable and friendly, and the selection is impeccable. I have never been in Dusty Groove and come away without an armful of records, usually things I had never actually seen or heard of until I walked in the door. There’s also a fun selection of turntable and record junkie accessories—ask about the Vinyl Killer!
336 1/2 State St
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
About: Located above a head shop in the middle of the University of Michigan campus, Wazoo makes the most of its pencil-thin space, using old wooden crates to house a surprisingly large slice of indie rock’s catalog.
Specialty: Volumes and volumes of rock’s back catalog, Wazoo makes hay off the classics other shops miss: The Pogues’ If I Should Fall from Grace with God, Syd Barrett’s Barrett, as well as stocking British imports before virtually everyone else: The Go! Team and Bloc Party come to mind.
What They’re Missing: Vinyl selection could be stronger; they seem to be about two weeks behind on important electronic releases.
Why We Love It: The best moment every semester: strolling out of the Science Auditorium after your last final, walking across the street into Wazoo, and blowing a week or two’s worth of wages in celebration. Freshman year I strolled in, picked up Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Califone’s Sometimes Bad Weather Follows Good People and carried that last-day-of-school feeling throughout the summer.
417 East Liberty Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
About: Located just off the University of Michigan’s campus, Encore Records is a grungy little joint that doesn’t fuck with anything shrink-wrapped: the store’s labyrinthine shelves house Michigan’s largest selection of used CDs and LPs.
Specialty: Encore leaves no genre un-turned, but a heaving selection of rare ethnic music on vinyl sets the shop apart. Their devotion to the greater Detroit area’s thriving local scene is impressive: your search for that rare Wolf Eyes cassette-only release ends here.
What They’re Missing: They’re a second-hand shop, so forget finding anything new.
Why We Love It: Make an afternoon out of it: Show up with a crumpled list of records on a grey Saturday afternoon, hobnob with the Ann Arbor indie elite—members of Saturday Looks Good to Me, Dykehouse, and Nomo call the shop home—elbow your way around the other hardcores. The best part? The front counter is surrounded by two walls of used CDs not yet shelved, virgin plastic towers not yet picked over. Show up to the counter with a fistful of records and realize that you’ve still got 20 minutes of browsing to do. Sweet Saturday afternoon…
13210 Michigan Avenue
Dearborn, MI 48126
About: A boutique-style shop owned by wife-husband ambient duo Windy & Carl, Stormy Records recently moved into a space above the venerable Green Brain Comics. The shop often hosts shows, from Frog Eyes and Destroyer to a recent Will Oldham gig, as well as sporadic appearances by the owners. A true indie, with a limited selection reflecting the tastes of the owners.
Specialty: Stormy specializes in underground ambient and experimental music, so while you can always arrive and find the latest indie releases, the true pleasure is flipping through the new releases rack and walking away with something you’ve never heard of. Hands down Detroit’s best place to gamble on cool cover art.
What They’re Missing: Lots, really. Stormy’s a specialty shop, so anything that falls outside the realm of underground rock/experimental music is thin: the store has meager selections of jazz, hip-hop, and blues. Even classic rock records—Dylan, the Stones, etc.—are in short supply, and while these holes are partially filled by a dirt-cheap selection of vinyl, Stormy is not where you go to find the staples.
Why We Love It: Because it’s the record-shopping equivalent of Cheers: Everybody knows your name. Pick the Carl’s brain about early Creation releases, let Windy go on about Durutti Column, hang around for an after-hours performance. Stormy is a community.
Flat Black and Circular
541 E. Grand River
East Lansing, MI 48823
About: Michigan State University—home of the second-largest undergraduate population in the United States—has but one passable record shop, located off Grand River, doors down from a Barnes & Noble, an Urban Outfitters, a Taco Bell, and just about every other stereotyped campus amenity you can dream up.
Specialty: A surprising amount of vinyl hip-hop caters to the DJ population, while rank and file indie kids will find few better places to dine on that distinctly 1990’s brand of post rock.
What They’re Missing: A respectable electronic section and any semblance of a back catalog—please don’t make me hit that Barnes and Noble to find a PJ Harvey CD. It belittles us both.
Why We Love It: FBC is located in an unassuming, office-space type of building, but make your way up the stairwell and you’re greeted by a seven foot tall arch of old 45’s. St. Peter should count himself lucky to guard a port so alluring.
St. Louis, MO 63130
About: Located on a block of bars and restaurants that serve St. Louis’s Washington University, Vintage Vinyl cradles the area’s local scene as well as offering waves of jazz, blues, and rock music.
Specialty: Vintage Vinyl seems particularly proud of St. Louis’s rich jazz history, as well as prominently displaying its local artists. It’s also the only game in town.
What They’re Missing: Vinyl, strangely enough. Those waves of records all come on plastic.
Why We Love It: So admittedly, this has very little to do with record shopping, but about a block down from Vintage Vinyl lies Blueberry Hill, a salty BBQ joint with a drinking problem, a wall of dart-boards, and enough famous patrons to wallpaper its halls. Stylus heartily recommends the Hickory Burger. Your St. Louis experience begins and ends on Delmar.
2000 4th Ave. S
Minneapolis, MN 55404
About: The Electric Fetus is a Minneapolis institution, stranded above Highway 35 amongst the dying brick store-fronts along Franklin Avenue, since 1969. Not only is it enormous for a non-chain record store, visitors receive their own free patchouli dousing upon entrance.
Specialty: The Fetus’ specialty is really in its completeness: they carry well-rounded selections of everything from the standards—jazz to R&B to pop—and they’ve even added an experimental music section in the past few months. They go out of their way to make sure they don’t “specialize,” so they can just carry everything you might ever want.
What They’re Missing: Their import selections need improvement (TVotR has taken far too long to come in), and their electronic music selection typically lacks the prominent European releases.
Why We Love It: As one can imagine, the Minneapolitans on Stylus have spent their fair share of time traipsing the Midwest, and Chicago included, we’ve still never seen a record store that can keep up with the Fetus’ overall selection.
2557 Lyndale Ave. S
Minneapolis, MN 55405
About: Treehouse Records is a developing landmark for indie records and CDs, started by Mark Trehus, the former maverick owner of Oarfolkjokeopus Records, in 2001.
Specialty: Treehouse specializes in both vinyl LPs and vinyl 45s, but they also happen to have the best used CD selection for recent indie releases (please, keep this to yourself). As such, you can profit on the cheap for Lynlakers needing beer money for the eve.
What They’re Missing: Their electronic music LPs are all but non-existent, but given they specialize in indie and punk music, perhaps that’s not such a pitfall.
Why We Love It: Treehouse is one of a handful of ‘mom and pop’ record stores left in Minneapolis that packs both quaint charm—the entire place has that earthy tree-mold smell like they’re recovering from a flood and have yet to peel out the carpets—and a wide-enough selection to get what you need.
Budget Music & Video
1944 S. Broadway
Minot, ND 58701
About: Minot's only used CD store. Also offers new CD's, DVD's, posters, smoking gear, and really smelly incense.
Specialty: The only place in town to get independent popular music.
What They’re Missing: If you're in Minot, ND, you're in no position to be picky.
Why We Love It: My competitive record-shopping side is reluctant to divulge this secret. But most people will never make it to Minot, so I might as well. As the town's only receptacle of used CD's, Budget is a fascinating barometer of the residents' tastes. Over time, the selection has diversified from country and hair metal to more alternative stuff. Used CD's vary in price, with a huge dollar bin. What's gold in NY is probably wood in ND, so I always leave with armloads of cheap CD's, all reeking of incense.
Check back each day for another region of the United States and, on Friday, for international record stores…
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-09-20