I joked with my mom that I didn’t want to travel anywhere in 2018 because I had gone to Victoria, BC and Salem, OR in 2017. Then I ended up going to Alexandria, VA in June and making a family visit to Honolulu in July.
Having lived in Austin, Seattle and New York City, I’ve noticed the health of a city’s music scene is reflected in the state of its record shops. By that measure, Honolulu is in passable health. The local shops dedicate significant shelf space to artists performing Hawaiian music, but since the scene itself doesn’t support much beyond that, Honolulu’s music retail options are limited.
That’s not to say you can’t find gems in Honolulu, but it usually takes a lot luck and some restrained expectations.
Hungry Ear Records
Hungry Ear had a prime location in Kailua, which it had to trade for a less-than-prime location near the University of Hawaii. It had to move again, this time to a far more spacious and pleasing spot in Kaka`ako.
As much as I miss the Kailua location, the Kaka`ako space is nice.
Hungry Ear has always been conscientious about organizing its stock well, and it’s a breeze to jump from genre to genre. Newly pressed issues take up a separate set of racks than used, and CDs form the perimeter.
Honolulu’s isolation means the stock is only as good as what happens to be on the island, but Hungry Ear somehow manages to find some winners, such as an original pressing of The Pogues’ Rum Sodomy & the Lash or a mid-80s reissue of McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy.
Idea’s Books and Music
On the day I visited Idea’s, a fellow customer asked whether the store was in the old location of Jelly’s Books and Music, not knowing he was posing to the question to the proprietor of both institutions.
Jelly’s has a long history in Honolulu. It flourished in the 1990s, then sold its locations to the Cheapo’s chain. It reopened again with locations in `Aiea and Kaka`ako, before downsizing again to a single location and rebranding as Idea’s.
Idea’s Books and Music is a far smaller operation than Jelly’s in its heyday, but the rustic charm is still in place. Idea’s stock reflects the taste of Honolulu in general, so it’s unlikely you’d find something esoteric.
But a bit of digging can uncover some surprises. On this last trip, I snagged an old rental copy of Tomosaka Rie’s Murasaki, a J-pop idol album renowned for including three early songs by Shiina Ringo.
Barnes and Noble
The compact disc boom of the 1990s allowed Honolulu to support three locations of Tower Records, two locations of Borders and the first Barnes and Noble location in Kahala Mall.
Today, a single Barnes and Noble store remains in Ala Moana Center.
The music section of Barnes and Noble has survived by adapting — first by including DVDs and Blu Ray, now by supporting vinyl.
The only time I’ve ever bought vinyl from Barnes and Noble in Seattle was for the exclusve release of Enya’s Dark Sky Island, but I make it a point to visit Barnes and Noble in Honolulu because of the difference in sales tax. In Seattle, it’s 10.1%. In Honolulu, 4.172%.
So I pretty much go to Barnes and Noble not for selection but for a 5.928% sales tax discount.
In the early 1990s, Shirokiya had its own music section. As the music industry fortunes turned, Shirokiya sub-leased the space to Book-Off. When Shirokiya relaunched as a food court, Book-Off moved to Don Quioxte. (Yes, there is a department store chain named after a Spanish novel, and it’s based in Japan.)
My friend Jen dislikes Book-Off because it makes terrible offers to people selling their books, and when I visited the Ward Warehouse location of Book-Off in 2016, the store was trying to sell fair- and poor-condition vinyl for upwards of $20. The Ward location was razed earlier this year.
So no, Book-Off isn’t the most reputable of retailers, but it was the place I could go to buy used Japanese rock and pop CDs.
Until this year.
I went to Don Quixote to find the CD stock completely replaced with Western artists. Honolulu no longer has a retail location that caters to J-Pop fans, a development that shouldn’t have been surprising given Kinokuniya’s move in the same direction.
You could say I was disappointed.
Photo credit: Hungry Ear Records Facebook page
Tags: honolulu, record stores
A month into my new job, I traveled to Alexandria, VA to work in the main office of my company for a week. It marks the first time in a nearly-20-year web development career when I traveled for business.
Of course, I had to spend time checking out the record stores in the area. Most of the shops in Washington, DC are concentrated on U Street, which allowed me to hit a number of them in a single evening.
I left work at around 5 p.m. on a Tuesday and crammed as much shopping as I could before the stores closed at 7 p.m. My visit to Crooked Beats happened the day before.
Crooked Beat Records
Crooked Beat was the only shop not in DC proper, but in Alexandria itself, which made it my first destination. The DC area doesn’t have a square-footage behemoth like Amoeba, Waterloo or Everyday Music. So the shops are about equal in terms of size.
That said, Crooked Beat has a slightly bigger space than the rest of the places I visited, and it allowed me to find a good cross section of releases — some Nonesuch titles, Chris Isaak’s second album and a requisite helping of Fugazi.
I probably would have spent more time exploring if I hadn’t showed up about 45 minutes before the store closed.
Joint Custody is comparable to Crooked Beat in terms of stock. Everything is organized by genre, and little else, so a lot of digging is required. I came away with an impulsive purchase of Kanye West — I don’t care for his politics, but The College Dropout stands above all that — and the self-titled Minor Threat compilation.
If time weren’t an issue, I probably would have explored further down the racks. Joint Custody’s space is longer than it is wide, and the back portion of the store included jackets and vintage turntables.
The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead was playing in the background, which enhanced my shopping experience nicely.
On the week I visited Alexandria, high temperatures reached the low- to mid-90s. And it was a humid heat.
Som Records is located in the basement of a building with little in the way of signage. On any other day, the cramped, un-air-conditioned space would be punk-rock charming. Not so much during a heat wave.
Despite the size, the stock in the store also spanned a wide swath of styles, and I even found another Nonesuch title from the mid-80s.
Smash Records is the punk-centric shop of the city. Getting there was a bit more of a hike, taking me away from U Street and into the Adams Morgan neighborhood. I saved it for my last destination because it closed at 9 p.m. From the hillside, you can see the Washington Monument.
Like Joint Custody, Smash Records has vintage wear as well as records in a space of similar size. The stock of new vinyl focuses mostly on punk, but its used selection has a diverse range of genres.
I rounded out my Fugazi collection with a purchase of Steady Diet of Nothing on CD. I nearly came away with Queen Latifah’s All Hail the Queen on vinyl, but it was in a sad state, priced accordingly.
Red Onion Records
Red Onion Records is a smaller space than Crooked Beats, which meant that the available stock didn’t happen to have anything in which I was interested. So my stay wasn’t long enough to form an impression.
Photo credit: Joint Custody
Tags: record stores, washington dc
As much as I love the variety and diversity of the music shops in Seattle, I sometimes think the stores in Portland, Ore. are better stocked.
I average a visit to Portland every 18 months, and they always end up being expensive visits. It’s also hard to exercise restraint when Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax.
This list in not comprehensive in any way because I usually don’t give myself enough time to explore all the city’s offerings. But when I visit, these are my regular destinations.
I visit the Seattle location of Everyday Music every week, but I go crazy when I visit the stores in Portland. The Portland stores have more square footage, and I guess my tastes are esoteric enough that I end up grabbing someone else’s rejects. Example: I cleaned out the Meredith Monk CD section on one visit to the Burnside store.
The Seattle store also tends to have a loose interpretation of vinyl grades. I find the grading at the Portland stores a bit more aligned to reality.
I didn’t have a very good impression of Music Millennium at first. I visited in 1998, but I was too enamored of Waterloo Records in Austin to make a fair comparison. Another visit in 2014 was no better.
But then my last two visits in 2016 and 2017 convinced me that Music Millennium was an essential destination. My purchasing priorities have changed a lot since those first visits, and Music Millennium have done me well since.
2nd Avenue Records
The punk and metal stock is where this store excels, but I found some out-of-the-way items here as well. It’s really easy to get lost exploring every genre in the shop.
Crossroads is actually a marketplace with a number of vendors sharing a space. Had I planned better, I would have spent half a day there. But in the hour I did spend, I found an original pressing of Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish and Soldier String Quartet’s Sequence Girls.
Photo: Music Millennium Facebook Page
Tags: portland, record stores
Back in October, I attended a conference in Chicago and stayed with my sister to save on hotel costs. When I’ve visited her in the past, I would pretty much ride along wherever they went, not really getting a sense of her neighborhood.
This time around, I scheduled a day where I would explore the city by myself, visiting as many record stores as I could before the conference started. Thankfully, almost all these stores had websites with searchable inventory, so I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to find.
Reckless Records has three locations, and somehow I managed to hit all three during my stay. Real estate in the city’s core is tight, so Reckless optimizes its space by filing only the CD booklets in its bins. That leaves floor space for records. I spent a lot of time on the store’s web site searching through my various wish lists and managed to find everything I’d intended to get. It’s probably the best way to shop because flipping through a stack of paper booklets is a lot more challenging than flipping through a bin of jewel cases. The Wicker Park and Lakeview locations are much larger than the location in the Loop, so I would recommend visiting those shops first.
I didn’t find anything on my shopping list at Dusty Grooves, but I do like the store’s layout. CDs take up the perimeter of the floor with records bins in the center. Disc cases are labeled with enough an artists name to scan quickly through an alphabetized section. For example, I looked for Bill Frisell in the jazz section and could quickly find approximately where he would be filed just by looking for the first three letters of his last name. Dusty Groove’s inventory gave off a very curated vibe — it’s not as thorough as the stock at Reckless, but it is diverse.
I had bought two copies of the Sibelius Symphony No. 1 conducted by Sir Colin Davis, and both had a lot of surface noise. Shuga Records’ web site indicated it had a copy, so I stopped by to see if I could grab it. It wasn’t on the floor, but the clerk at the counter did find it for me in a back room. The floor space is about half the size of Dusty Groove and the Wicker Park Reckless location, so it makes sense that some stock won’t be on the floor. As it turns out, the third time was the charm — Shuga’s copy of the Sibelius first symphony is the one I’m keeping.
Jazz Record Mart
I found a longbox at Jazz Record Mart. It was a copy of Where in the World? by the Bill Frisell Band, and if I didn’t already own the disc, I would have bought it. Jazz Record Mart was the most impressive store in my visit for its size and its focus. The floor space was easily as big if not larger than Reckless, but as its name indicates, the stock is almost entirely jazz. I went down the list of Naked City alumni and found everyone — Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, Fred Frith, Joey Baron and John Zorn himself. There’s a tiny section for modern classical music and a cursory row for rock. But if you want jazz, this shop will have it.
Tags: chicago, record stores
If it weren’t for vinyl, I probably would have never explored Seattle beyond my immediate neighborhood.
My vinyl addiction led me to seek out places where I could find them. Capitol Hill certainly has a large concentration of stores, but some of the best selections can be found in West Seattle, Fremont and Ballard. I’ve even found a few out in Bellevue.
Nearly two years on, I’ve sussed out the strengths and weaknesses of all the stores I visit with regularity. Here’s a guide to help you, the random reader, navigate the area.
Jive Time Records
I’m sure if I ran a report in Quicken, Jive Time Records in Fremont would be the destination for most of my disposable income budgeted for music. Jive Time specializes in used vinyl, and their stock is in wonderful condition. As such, the prices may seem steep, but you get what you pay for — vintage vinyl in awesome condition.
Of particular interest for me is the classical section. It’s not the biggest, but it’s one of the best organized. Modern music is filed separately, which is awesomely convenient for me.
Portland-based Everyday Music isn’t picky. If they have room for it in their spacious Capitol Hill store, it’s out on the floor. That said, the condition of their stock can range from falling apart at the seams to still-sealed vintage. The pricing, on average, is incredibly fair. Sometimes, you get a real bargain. Other times, you wonder whether how they can charge for something in that condition.
But it’s the diversity of their stock that makes Everyday Music an essential destination. If I’m looking for low-hanging fruit — say, an easy-to-find ABBA album — the store just might have a copy in the bins or understock. Lately, Everyday Music has brought in some real impulse buys — Kings of the West Coast by L.A. Dream Team or Meeting in the Ladies Room by Klymaxx. I almost picked up the self-titled album by Ta Mara and the Seen.
Silver Platters is aptly named. Most of their floor space is dedicated to compact discs, and with the market in CDs tanking, some great bargains can be found. At Silver Platters’ price points, it’s more economical to get an album on CD than to download it.
When I first moved to Seattle, the Lower Queen Anne location of the local chain inhabited what used to be a Tower Records. As a result, the store inherited Tower’s excellent classical section and maintained it, even as it moved from Queen Anne to SoDo.
Perhaps the store’s greatest strength is its web site. Its entire inventory is searchable online, and for the really anal retentive, you can search by barcode. It’s how I discovered the SoDo store carried a vinyl copy of the self-titled Naked City.
I’ve found a few used vinyl gems at Sonic Boom, but that’s more of the exception than the rule. Sonic Boom isn’t a very big store, and the used vinyl section isn’t as thoroughly organized as other stores. Rather, Sonic Boom focuses on new vinyl, oftentimes pricing LPs competitively with Silver Platters. I usually go to either Sonic Boom or Silver Platters for vinyl reissues.
Easy Street Records
Easy Street is definitely the priciest option on this list so far. New vinyl is usually priced a dollar or two more than other stores, but used vinyl? Easy Street tends to score some incredible collectibles. I found a Korean pressing of Duran Duran’s The Wedding Album, and no, it wasn’t cheap.
Easy Street had a Queen Anne location, but like Silver Platters, they were shut out of the neighborhood by rising rents. The Queen Anne location had the floor space to stock a good classical section. The original West Seattle location isn’t as impressive with CD stock as the Queen Anne location had been.
Where Easy Street has other shops beat hands down is the café. They serve a really tasty breakfast.
Spin Cycle Records
Spin Cycle is an essential destination for me personally because it’s up the street from my apartment. I’ve found some really great titles there, and the stock is a nice mix of rock hits and indie obscurities. They also have the most personable Facebook business page, sometimes offering some interesting specials. When the drummer for AC/DC was arrested in a murder plot, Spin Cycle offered a 10 percent discount to customers who said “Dirty deeds done dirt cheap” at the time of purchase.
Neptune Music is located in the basement of the Neptune Theatre in the University District. It’s a cramped space where every nook and cranny is crammed with used vinyl, CDs and tapes. But the purveyors of Neptune do their best to optimize the space, organizing the sections thoroughly.
Prices on their stock are some of the fairest in town — reflective of the quality of the product without being too unreasonable. Where many stores tend to lean toward a particular genre or style, Neptune has a diverse selection that’s expertly curated.
Wall of Sound
Wall of Sound absolutely caters to a very specific audience. The store carries a number of genres, but their specialty is avant-garde music — jazz, electronic, classical. I’m surprised, given my tastes, I don’t shop there more often.
Tags: record stores, seattle