Record Stores With Actual Inventory of NEW Music - Where Art Thou?

As a teenager in Buffalo during the 70's, the early days of my music buying, er, hobby, like in most cities, there were many record store chains and mom and pop shops. You could find wondrous things fairly easily. The store clerks were fountains of knowledge. Except the ones touting Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Kansas. Around 1976, the Record Theater opened on Main St. in University Plaza across from the University of Buffalo. I recall them advertising the best possible selection with "over $1 million in inventory", which in those days was actual money. They had a quadrophonic system near the front of the store, which was cavernous. You could wander for hours, and as I recall their boast was pretty accurate, they carried pretty much anything you could conjure up.

Later, in Chicago, we had the old Flip Side chain which for a while carried a decent selection. Rose Records on State Street downtown was a multi story treasure trove. There were others, most now defunct. Later still, living in Philly, 3rd St. Jazz & Rock was another store with an amazing breadth and depth of inventory, and you could linger for hours. Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis, the location on Delmar in U. City was and still is pretty good at carrying a wide variety of new music. A store clerk there steered me to Ronnie Dawson's Monkey Beat, great rockabilly. (Side note: when Pope John Paul II was in St. Louis, the Vintage Vinyl outdoor marquis read "Look Busy - The Pope Is Coming").

Yesterday, I was in Rolling Stone Records in Norridge IL, a Chicago suburb. I walked in and once the incense stopped distracting me I realized that they might just be one of the few remaining record stores here in Chicago that carries a reasonably deep inventory of NEW music. They had listening stations (!) featuring a pretty diverse set of records (listened to 10 minutes of The Union by Elton and Leon, didn't need an 11th). They had variety. There are many record stores here that have excellent used CD and vinyl sections, but as far as I can tell, very few that carry much NEW music. Best Buy actually used to keep a reasonably interesting inventory (I was shocked, years ago, to find them carrying Phil Alvin's County Fair 2000) but now seems focused on a vary narrow, top 40-ish selection. Similarly, Borders used to have listening stations (first heard Chuck Prophet's "The Hurting Business" there, walked out with a copy) but Borders is all but out of the CD business, at least mine, with what passes for their inventory.

The mom and pop shops rely more on used than new, and stock accordingly. So if I want to buy new, it's increasingly Amazon, somewhere else on line, or preferably, ordering from a local mom and pop shop, then waiting for a few days. But I don't get to walk out with anything in hand, which was always the joy at the end of thumbing through the bins, right?

Easy Ed wrote two excellent blogs (well, many more than that), one about "the cloud" being the likely future of music storage, and the other about the demise of Tower Records. It's nice to know where things may be headed and where they were before, but right now, today, where are the decent brick and mortar places carrying a selection of NEW music? That's my more immediate concern. What are your towns options?

Views: 334

Comment by Adam Sheets on December 3, 2010 at 12:37pm
What are my town's options? I'm in Rust Belt Central, but up until about five years ago our local indie record shop managed to hold on. The place had been in business since the mid-'60s and closed mainly due to the owner's health. He was in his 70s and still worked their every day. Nice folks and if they didn't have something they would definitely get it for you.

Now the only options are Wal-Mart and K-Mart, both of which I avoid like the plague. Luckily, I'm within driving distance of several great record shops in Columbus, Cincy, and Huntington, WV and I have also been lucky enough to secure advance/review copies of much of what I want to hear. But like you, I find myself relying more and more on Amazon and CD Baby.

A friend of mine and I have often talked about opening a recording studio/record store in Portsmouth, but as for now that's just talk.
Comment by Jack Williams on December 3, 2010 at 1:47pm
I must say that I miss Tower Records. It was pretty much a guarantee that they would have any new release that I was interested in on the day that it came out and usually on sale. They had some freaky looking people working there, but hey, they weren't boring. When I was "between marriages", I lived within walking distance of the one in Fairfax, VA. Used to go there a lot when I was lonely and bored. Did a fair amount of retail therapy there. There was also one about a 3 or 4 block walk from where I work in DC. I used to go there often on a lunch break. Sigh.

Yep, Borders used to be pretty good, too. Then, they got rid of the listening stations and replaced them with those scanning stations where you could only here a sample of a CD you would have to pick out. Hell, I could do that on Amazon. And even that was hot or miss. Made me think that they just weren't all that interested in catering to people like me.

Best bet for me now as far as walking in to a store and coming out with something new is Best Buy and that is just sad. As Jack says, they have paired back considerably and you can just forget about the Folk and Blues sections. You can get lucky every once in a while. I remember picking up a new Robyn Hitchcock release not too long ago.

Loved the side note about John Paul II.
Comment by Craig Young on December 3, 2010 at 3:31pm
I live in Lake Worth, FL, and just 5 blocks from my house I have Top Five Records that has been open for a year as of today. I was just there a couple of hours ago to congratulate the owner on his one year anniversary. John the owner is extremely knowledgeable and has vinyl from the 40's through the early 90's and his collection is quite impressive with excellent quality standards. Unfortunately he doesn't carry any NEW releases and believes that his success is due to carrying and selling only vintage vinyl. John also doesn't believe in selling online and prefers doing business personally with people that walk into his store.
Comment by chris sweeney on December 3, 2010 at 6:25pm
We are lucky in Houston to have Cactus Records. While they were out of business for a short while due to the previous owners retirement, they are doing pretty well. I especially like their in-store performances. By necessity, they don't cater some much to old guys like me, but hey - sometimes I buy what the kids are buying!

I buy a lot of my new stuff from the artists at their shows. I feel good buying direct and Houston has a lot of live acts (large and small) coming through on a regular basis.
Comment by Easy Ed on December 3, 2010 at 6:51pm
Jerry Gordon's 3rd Street Jazz....now that brings backs some Philly memories. If I remember correctly, on the corner of 3rd and Market near his store was Tie City, Shirt City and Shoe City. Jerry was the only dude we'd let into the warehouse of our distributor to comb through the shelves of the inventory from the out of business labels, and he was always finding crazy stuff to take down to his store.

There's still some great record stores out there that have the depth and breadth of catalog music. Amoeba in Hollywood is the hands down best for both new and used. (If you've never been there, it's worth planning a trip. Heck, there's people flying in from Tokyo to browse their aisles.) Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, Music Millennium in Portland and Waterloo in Austin also carry deep inventory and have knowledgeable people working for them.

The few hundred indie stores left in this country have survived by focusing on used product where they make much better margins, and by adding in non-music items such as posters, books, clothes and whatever else they can think of. While they still can carry some new product, they're often forced to buy new releases at Best Buy or Walmart since they sell it for a few bucks below the wholesale cost. For catalog product it gets hard to have to buy something and pay for it, when it may sit on the shelves for months or even years.

One of the ways Tower and some of the other big chains managed was to negotiate longer payment terms or use creative accounting to basically create a consignment model. That's never been an option for the indie stores as they are usually purchasing from a third party (one stops) and don't get neither the lower prices nor the extended dating.

You'll never be able to experience a Tower again, but that doesn't mean the entire shopping experience is dead. Although I'm all-digital now for most stuff, digging through the used racks of almost any little indie out there will yield some treasure.
Comment by Heath Peek on December 4, 2010 at 6:30am
My town's options are... Amazon. Well, we h ave a Wal Mart, in town, but that store's collection is, and I kid you not, not even as big as the desk I am sitting at to compose this.
Comment by Jack on December 4, 2010 at 12:24pm
Ed, was last in Philly in about '05, 3rd St. Jazz & Rock was gone. Not sure if they closed or moved. That section of Old City went pretty upscale, I'd guess unless the guy owned the building the rent got too high, or if he owned the building he probably was able to cash out nicely. I lved in the 200 north block of 3rd 1991-92. Tie, Shirt and Shoe City was gone but there was an old shoe store a few doors north of the record store. Used to see some cool bands at the Khyber Pass on 2nd, then crawl home. There's newer small venue on 2nd a few doors south of Market, The Tin Angel that books ND type acts.

Love spending time scrounging the used racks, I get it why stores have gone that route. What I really need to do is get with the electronic program once and for all. Until then though...
Comment by Mott on December 7, 2010 at 5:20am
Got one School Kids Records store left in Raleigh, across the street from NC State and next to Sadlack's, and it's great. Got listening stations and they carry lots of new and used stuff. I hope they can hold on, because that's it in Raleigh.
Comment by Lwood on December 7, 2010 at 5:42am
Chicago still has many....Jazz Record Mart is probably the biggest...Dusty Grooves also carries new discs, mostly Jazz though...Val's Halla in Oak Park has new stock interspersed with the Used stuff, but can order and have it in a day or two.

Sadly though, it's mostly used. Amazon and other online stores are the predominant players for most everyone, me thinks.
Comment by Jack on December 7, 2010 at 10:25am
Lwood - I should have mentioned Chicago Digital on Oak Park Ave. as having a very good selection of new music and their used inventory is extensive; an old fashioned, idiosyncratic record store. I love that Val is still plugging away and I make a point of ordering from her. She's helpfully opinionated. The used store on Oak Park Ave. just south of the Lake El is excellent for vinyl, as is the one on Madison in Forest Park.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.