Navigating through Chicago’s record stores in search of the perfect one can be a bit like wandering through an inhospitable postapocalyptic wasteland searching for shelter. Hidden amongst the vast desert of uninviting caves and alcoves guarded by money trolls and pretentious music geeks, there are safe oases to be found full of hosts ready to share their musical mead.
I have bravely journeyed through this land, encountering troll and geek alike, drinking deeply from both the dry husk of disappointment and the golden chalice of fairly priced music to bring you this list of reviews. Heed my warnings and move through this world unscathed; ignore me, and you might find yourself victim of a fate crueler than theft: overpriced music.
DAVE’S RECORDS (2604 N. Clark St.)
Dave’s Records is a crowded, small store with a sign on the door that brags “NO CD’s!! Never had ’em!! Never Will!!” Where Dave’s excels is in the number of new releases available and the large variety of both new and used records. There you will be able to find many independent releases, though because “Dave” seems to think his is the only place in the Belmont area that has many of these vinyls available, most everything in the store is unreasonably expensive.
The store has two long aisles about three feet wide, which makes browsing difficult as people frequently have to ask you to move so they can get past. The man behind the counter (who I suspected might have been Dave himself) was grouchy and unapproachable. As young trick-or-treaters came into the store to grab candy from the large bowl, Dave, obviously excited, would enthusiastically yell at each child, “TAKE ONLY ONE.”
GRAMAPHONE RECORDS (2843 N. Clark St.)
Gramaphone, just down the street from Dave’s, caters to a completely different audience. Whereas Dave’s has a large variety of music spanning multiple genres, Gramaphone specifically focuses on electronic and dance music and has virtually every artist from this scene. It is a DJ’s haven, with not only records but also equipment and supplies.
Unfamiliar with this type of music, I awkwardly asked one of the people working what he’d recommend in order to start exploring it. The salesman was happy to help, bustling throughout the room and grabbing me 10 to 12 records that I might find interesting. He then brought me to a “listening station” (a record player with headphones strapped to it) in the corner and left me on my own.
As I listened I couldn’t help but watch some of the people in the store. Most were wearing all black and had piercings. I even witnessed one gigantic black mohawk. They all seemed friendly with one another and most were intensely talking music with the salesman who helped me. Though the people would seem intimidating out of context, they were clearly knowledgeable and formed one of the most laid-back music communities I’ve seen. The prices were fairly reasonable, though some of the newer releases were upwards of $25. Although Gramaphone doesn’t sell the type of music I typically listen to, I would go back to explore new albums or just talk with the staff.
RECKLESS RECORDS (3126 N. Broadway St.)
The Reckless Records off the Belmont Red Line stop is one of three chain stores exclusively in Chicago. Not only does it buy and sell records, but it also has CDs, DVDs and video games. The one off of Belmont has all of these, though most of the store’s space is dedicated to rows and rows of records and CDs from all type of genres. Like Dave’s, the selection is widely diverse, but because much of what it sells is used, it is inconsistent: If it’s not a big release you can’t be certain as to whether or not you’re going to find what you are looking for.
Pricewise, Reckless is significantly cheaper than Dave’s. Even with new records you’re going to save a few bucks. For instance, the Beach Boys Pet Sounds vinyl reissue costs $19.99 at Reckless and $21.99 at Dave’s.
The best part about Reckless is the ultra-cheap CDs and vinyls section. There’s nothing like returning home with a few used $2 CDs or some 49-cent vinyls by bands you’ve never heard of, and this is the only store so far that provides that.
GROOVIN’ HIGH INC (1047 W. Belmont Ave.)
The name is probably all most will ever know about this mysterious place. Though it’s located in a prime spot (just a block from the Belmont Red Line stop), it’s rarely open. Most of the reviews on Google cite this as an issue. There’s even one person who lives a block away and claims never to have seen it open. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that there’s some sort of relationship between the store’s name, how often it’s closed and the hours listed on the door: “Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8 p.m. OR Whenever I feel like it.” Of course, the day I went (a Saturday) it was closed.
LAURIE’S PLANET OF SOUND (4639 N. Lincoln Ave.)
Websites, such as Pitchfork, that list some of the best record stores in the nation sometimes cite this as one of them. Located off the Western stop on the Brown Line, it’s a trek for the average Loyola student, but well worth it. The store utilizes its space well and sells not only records but also CDs, DVDs, books and vintage things such as old board games, posters, trading cards and pin buttons. The staff is friendly and the place is filled with the latest releases and all types of trinkets — a sort of thrift shop for the ultra hip. It’s easy to see why people love this place; you could spend hours browsing through all the different things it sells.