The 13 Coolest Record Stores In America

iStock.com/urbancow
iStock.com/urbancow

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

 People stand on the floor of the newly opened Rough Trade NYC store on November 25, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

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

A woman with her hand on the record player
iStock.com/LFO62

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

A collection of records
iStock.com/photopsist

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?

Elvis Presley’s Lincoln Limousine "Family Car" Is Hitting the Auction Block

Elvis Presley not only liked peanut-butter-bacon-and-banana sandwiches, he also loved cars. The King owned more than 100 automobiles, including several limos. Whereas most of his cars—and his plane—have been preserved at Graceland, one of Elvis’s lesser-known and most sentimental cars has almost been forgotten. Atlas Obscura reports that Presley’s 1967 Lincoln Continental Executive Limousine by Lehmann-Peterson will hit the auction block in Monterey, California, on August 15, courtesy of Mecum Auctions.

“Colonel” Tom Parker, Presley's manager, gifted the limo to Elvis and Priscilla on their wedding day in 1967. For the '60s, it featured a lot of advanced amenities, like air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, power windows, a power antenna, and a power front bench seat. Over the years, it became known as the Elvis Presley Family Car. Elvis’s imprint is all over it: The limo’s Tennessee license plate reads “1-Elvis,” and comes with a copy of the car’s original title application, with Elvis’s name on it.

But since Presley’s death in August 1977, the car has fallen into disrepair—dust covers the black exterior and interior. In 2014, the car was found in car collector James Petrozzini’s collection after Petrozzini died. As Mecum Auctions states, Petrozzini liked to use the limo to pick up his son and his friends from school while wearing a chauffeur’s hat and white gloves.

If you’re interested in bidding, Mecum Auctions recommends calling for an estimate. For comparison: In 2018 Presley’s 1971 Mercedes-Benz sold for $116,600.

12 Facts About Woodstock For Its 50th Anniversary

Tucker Ransom, Getty Images
Tucker Ransom, Getty Images

From August 15-18, 1969, an estimated 400,000 spectators attended Woodstock, a music event held in Bethel, New York, that quickly became a defining moment in the counter-cultural movement of the era. Nearly three dozen acts performed over the course of four days, ranging from the Grateful Dead to The Who to Jimi Hendrix, who closed out the show. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this milestone in music history, we're looking at some of the things about the festival you might have missed.

1. Woodstock was banned from its original site because of toilets.

Attendees at Woodstock pose while sitting inside a car trunk
Three Lions/Getty Images

Woodstock was conceived in early 1969 by a group of twenty-somethings: Artie Kornfeld, Michael Lang, Joel Rosenman, and John Roberts. In January of that year, the four men—Kornfeld and Lang as music industry vets and Rosenman and Roberts as venture capitalists who provided the financial backing— formed the company Woodstock Ventures, named for the New York town that Kornfeld and Lang were scouting to build a recording studio in. Woodstock had long been known as an artists' retreat about two hours north of New York City, and even has its own "Artists Cemetery" for a variety of creative types.

The original site of the festival was intended to be at Howard Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, near Middletown, New York. After negotiations with landowners, the four believed they had found a solution. But Wallkill residents shot the idea down, fearing that an influx of visitors—possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs—would be potentially problematic. By insisting the concert's portable toilets weren't up to code and refusing to grant a permit, Wallkill effectively banned Woodstock from taking place there just a month before its scheduled August 15 start date.

2. Woodstock was saved by a farmer.

When Wallkill fell through, promoters turned to Bethel, New York, a small town with just 2366 residents where a farmer named Max Yasgur owned a 600-acre dairy farm. As in Wallkill, Bethel residents were not terribly enthusiastic about hosting a concert that would attract a considerable crowd. But Yasgur didn't share their apprehensions. Even though he was middle-aged, blue-collar, and as far from a "hippie" as he could be, he respected the desire of concert-goers to share in a communal experience and allowed organizers the use of his property for a fee of $50,000. He even came out at one point to address the crowd (above), congratulating them on the assembly. It was said he received as loud an ovation as Jimi Hendrix.

3. Woodstock wasn't meant to be a free concert.

The crowd at Woodstock is pictured
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mounting Woodstock was not intended to be an altruistic venture. Kornfeld, Rosenman, Roberts, and Lang paid for talent, production costs, Yasgur's site, and incurred other expenses in the hope of profiting from ticket sales. One day's admission was $7; attending all three (which stretched into early Monday morning due to rain and technical delays) was $18. But as people began to show up to Bethel days before the scheduled start, the infrastructure was still incomplete. Fences still needed to be erected and ticket booths set up. With no practical way of turning away crowds, the partners decided to make it a free event for people who had not purchased one of the 100,000 tickets that had been pre-sold. Of the 400,000 who ultimately attended, 300,000 were never charged an admission fee. (The total number of attendees would have likely been more if not for traffic back-ups. Some people walked miles to the site.)

After expenses, the partners ran into a deficit. Two of them—Kornfeld and Lang—sold their share in Woodstock Ventures, the company they had formed to put on the concert. Roberts and Rosenman eventually saw a modest profit after other income sources, like the 1970 concert film Woodstock, were tallied.

4. Many cows were in attendance.

Attendees at Woodstock sit near their car
Three Lions/Getty Images

Yasgur's farm was a functioning site of business, which meant that the incoming crowds were going to be displacing the cattle usually present on site. His workers tried to corral them into a fenced area, but so many people ran over the barrier and set up campgrounds that they decided to just let the cows wander and mingle with attendees. One of Yasgur's employees, George Peavey, told United Press International that the cows and music fans "seem to be getting along together fine."

5. Jimi Hendrix got $18,000 to perform.

Booking big-name acts didn't come cheap. Jimi Hendrix was Woodstock's highest-paid performer, earning $18,000 (roughly $125,000 in 2019 dollars, accounting for inflation). Creedence Clearwater Revival, the first act booked, received $10,000. The Who received $6250 (although another report has them receiving $11,200) and Joe Cocker made a relatively paltry $1375. Sha Na Na got $750, while Quill was the most economic booking at $375.

6. Woodstock's musical acts needed to be helicoptered in.

Musician John Sebastian performs at Woodstock in 1969
Tullio Saba, Flickr // Public Domain

The traffic leading into the event was so awful that Sweetwater, which was due to open the festival, didn't make their scheduled start. (Richie Havens went on instead.) The band was airlifted to the grounds by helicopter so they could go on second. A number of other performers also traveled by air to circumvent the traffic issues.

7. Woodstock's crowd was actually very well-behaved.

Attendees at Woodstock are pictured
Three Lions/Getty Images

Despite concerns from both Wallkill and Bethel over the anticipated misbehavior of attendees, virtually no reports of violence ever came out of the festival. When those in attendance used telephones to place long-distance calls back to home, local switchboard operators were amazed that all of them said "thank you." Lou Yank, the chief of police in nearby Monticello, declared them "the most courteous, considerate, and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact with in my 24 years of police work." The only real impropriety came as a result of concession food shortages, driving some attendees to loot nearby farmland for corn and produce.

While it's possible law enforcement could have arrested many, many people for marijuana possession, they opted not to. As one state police sergeant said, there "wouldn't be enough space in Sullivan County, or the next three counties, to put them in."

8. Even the ice had acid in it.

Attendees at Woodstock in 1969 are pictured
Paille, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Woodstock has a well-earned reputation for being a trip in more ways than one. Drug use was pervasive and seemingly inescapable. In 2009, the Who's John Entwistle told Billboard that he decided to drink a bourbon and Coke and realized that someone had spiked the ice with acid. The use of psychedelic drugs was estimated to have resulted in 25 "freak-outs" every hour the first night of the festival; emergency medical staff and members of a commune known as the Hog Farm sat with attendees until the drugs wore off.

9. The Who's set was crashed by Abbie Hoffman.

Performing on day two of the festival, British rock band the Who experienced an interruption when political activist Abbie Hoffman (who had co-founded the Youth International Party the previous year to protest the Vietnam War) rushed on stage to protest the imprisonment of White Panther Party leader John Sinclair. Pete Townshend swung at Hoffman with his guitar and ushered him off-stage. It was probably worth the hassle, as Townshend later said he thought their performance boosted sales of their Tommy album.

10. There were public service announcements between each act.

In an era before cell phones, trying to communicate with friends in a sea of humanity was challenging. To try and facilitate important messages, a member of the production staff named Edward "Chip" Monck (seriously) took to the microphone to deliver announcements, alerting the crowd to unattended children or to notify people where to find help. "Kenny Irwin, please go to the information booth for your insulin," he said. "Paul Andrews, Mike needs his pills and will meet you where he did yesterday." In the above video, you can also hear someone—possibly Monck—warning the crowd about some potentially harmful "brown acid" making the rounds.

11. The original Woodstock site is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

A plaque stands at the original site of Woodstock in Bethel, New York
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Cementing its status as a historic site, the concert area was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. The farm is now known as the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. It contains a campus, museum, and 15,000-seat amphitheater. The site will be host to a number of 50th anniversary events, including performances by Ringo Starr and original Woodstock acts Arlo Guthrie and Carlos Santana the weekend of August 16, 17, and 18, 2019.

12. Even the garbage had a message.

People clean up the garbage left behind at Woodstock in 1969
Three Lions/Getty Images

Woodstock's pacifist vibe extended to the extensive clean-up required after the crowds began to dissipate following Hendrix's closing performance on Monday, August 18, 1969. By then the audience had dwindled to just 25,000 or so. When Hendrix was finished, a crew set about picking up the considerable garbage left behind. Surveying the concert site in a helicopter, co-promoter Michael Lang noticed that workers had started to shovel the trash in formation. A peace symbol appeared, made up of the litter left behind.

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