Founding member of Depeche Mode, Martin Gore put it perfectly when he said — “It was so exciting to go to the record shop and buy a piece of vinyl and hold it, read the liner notes, look at the pictures. Even the smell of the vinyl.”
Indeed, one of the greatest joys of life (and travel) is the art of record collecting. A few years back, I did an around-the-county road trip in search of food. What I found nestled among plates of culinary art and sandwiched between coffee shops and burger joints were some of the best vinyl purveyors in America.
From Portland, Oregon, across the coast to New York City, here are 10 of the Best Independent Record Shops in America. A mix of old and new, all with their own unique hints of nostalgia, these stores serve so that dedicated vinyl fanatics can expand their always-growing collections.
Toss your favorite record on, turn it up, and let’s dive in!
Shangri-La Records (Memphis)
This little record store in Memphis, Tennessee is known as one of the top shops in the state. With a knowledgeable staff and a selection of all genres, this local landmark boasts a particularly hefty selection of blues, country, and rock — an ode to the history of Memphis music. Grab a burger and brew from Huey’s Midtown across the street, then spend the afternoon getting lost in Shangri-La’s friendly vibes and fantastic selection.
The Groove (Nashville)
With the slogan ‘Music is for Everyone’—The Groove off Calvin Avenue in Nashville is an inclusive shop that offers a little something for collectors of all kinds. It’s no surprise that Nashville, which is also known as Music City, is home to an array of musical shops, jobs, and innovation. With a quaint location in a refurbished home, The Groove provides a comfortable, cozy, and organized environment for crate digging. Simply wander up the wooden staircase and find yourself in a homey living room filled with vinyl.
Amoeba Music (Los Angeles)
Amoeba Music prides itself on being The World’s Largest Independent Record Store. With locations in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and the original on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley (which also boasts a weed dispensary), the Hollywood location makes this list as one of our favorites.
From vinyl to videos to live shows, Amoeba Music off Sunset Boulevard is their biggest store yet. It occupies an entire city block and houses a diverse collection, the kind that will send vinyl enthusiasts into a fit of glee. Snag a signature blend from Groundwork’s Coffee across the way and let the all-day hunt for record treasures ensue.
Reckless Records (Chicago)
Reckless Records originated in London and now has three Chicago locations in three distinct neighborhoods — among them, the Wicker Park location. Since 1988, this store has been home to a wide variety of labels. Reckless’ music buyer Matt Jencik is known to take pride in stocking everything from “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.”
If you’re on the lookout for some new tunes but aren’t quite sure what those new tunes might be, pop into Reckless Records and saunter about for an hour or two. You’ll find just the thing you didn’t know you were looking for.
Waterloo Records (Austin)
Waterloo Records is a longtime fan favorite in Austin, Texas, having won 37 consecutive Austin Music Awards for ‘Best Record Store.’
It opened its doors in 1982 before Austin became the music-art-food-film mecca it is today. However, even before Austin’s popularity boom, the musical artists of Texas were known and respected around the world — from the 13th Floor Elevators to Willie Nelson.
From its beginning, Waterloo stood out as a shop that catered to the music lover rather than the music buyer. Step foot through the doors today and you’ll find the magical element of record shopping they still speak to — the kindred soul of merchant and consumer.
Sweat Records (Miami)
It’s hip, indie, and boasts a coffee bar complete with locally-roasted Panther Coffee and an assortment of vegan goods. If it’s a chocolate-coconut latte you prefer while shopping for an eclectic assortment of wax, consider paying a visit to this Florida hot spot.
Sweat also hosts all kinds of events and their website’s home to a calendar that covers the musical happenings in South Florida. A stop at Sweat Records is rarely spontaneous or short; it’s the type of place devoted customers plan their day around to browse, peruse, listen, sip, and eat.
A Separate Reality Records (Cleveland)
Welcome to A Separate Reality, the largest vinyl record shop in Cleveland, Ohio. Owner Augustus Payne is a record collector-dealer, occasional DJ, musician, and audio engineer who once sold records on the road and at conventions before putting down roots at his brick-and-mortar shop.
Payne’s store boasts rare and collectible records from the 1950s to today with a broad focus across genres (from Free Jazz to Latin to Classic Rock) and is also known for buying large, used collections.
Augustus’ true love is obscure music from the ‘60s and ‘70s — so if that’s your ultimate jam, pack your bag and make the trip to Cleveland! While you’re at it, make sure to pay a visit to the iconic Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a temple for the musically minded.
Mississippi Records (Portland, Oregon)
North Portland is home to a few notable record shops, among them, Mississippi Records. Shop owner Eric Isaacson has a label of the same name and, despite the label’s move to Chicago, the storefront has remained a staple of the Portland vinyl scene. It’s the loveable gem that Willamette Week once called a “room resembling the den of that eccentric hermit at the end of the street you’ve been dying to become friends with.”
This store specializes in rare blues, gospel, pre-Beatles rock, as well as punk and garage rock. Located in a charming blue and white building next to a “Natural Wine Dive Bar” named Sardine Head, this store evokes the welcoming, quirky nature of Portland as a whole. Dig deep through a sea of colorful vinyl covers and find your treasure at this well-stocked Oregon gem.
Lou’s Records (San Diego)
Nestled among the homes of Encinitas in San Diego’s North County (right down the street from my own home, in fact) rests the lovable Lou’s Records. After a day spent on the sand, step through the doors of Lou’s off Coast Highway and into a haven of old and new vinyl, CDs, cassettes, and turntables.
With a knowledgeable staff and a laid back vibe, add this shop to your California record shop bucket list. If you’re lucky, you just might snag some musically-inspired loot, like free tickets to a show at the Belly Up the next town over.
Academy Records & CDs (New York City)
Academy Records & CDs is New York City’s one-stop music and film destination. If you prefer your Soundtrack Scores with a side of Concerts or Documentary, pay a visit to this intimate New York landmark.
Grab a creative gourmet donut and a cup of hot coffee from Dough Doughnuts, then (after washing your hands, of course) venture across the street for a morning spent rustling through rows of records at this small shop with the green awning.
Whether you’re driving through Portland, walking the streets of Los Angeles, or flying into Cleveland, record hunting and traveling go hand-in-hand. Independent record shops offer a piece of the region’s history and a sense of what the city you’re exploring is all about.
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