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?