Chicago Record Store Guide

chicago record store guide
Flickr Credit: johnnyalive

Chances are, if you’re a buyer of Vinyl records or rare CD’s then you enjoy the hunt for music almost as much as you enjoy the music itself. Screw instant gratification, MP3’s are for the weak. You’re a romantic who can remember the very moment you pulled that original Flying Burritos Brothers album out of the bin or when you first slipped Moby into your DJ crate. There’s no doubt that Reckless Records is the king of second hand music in Chicago, but there are other stores out there that collectively make up Chicago’s music purveyors, each creating a specific taste niche that keeps them alive through specialization (AKA eBay).

It was at the beginning of the summer when I attempted to tackle every record store within Chicago city limits, a larger task then you might think and one that took me all over. I did this with the purpose of creating an UPchicago guide to my favorite local record stores and a few helpful tips to go with it. For instance, Rule #1 in shopping for records is to make sure the place you’re looking for is open. I’m not kidding. These stores don’t make much money with idealistic music nerds at the helm, and a lot of places keep their websites up but lose their retail spots quickly. And if they are still in business, record store owners don’t always keep precise hours or honor the hours they do keep. This might sound frustrating, and it is, but when you consider the laid back nature of the business or the slim profit margins these people pull in, just be thankful these places still exist and try to support their manic efforts with your own retro addiction.

Jazz Record Mart — 27 E. Illinois Street, 312.222.1467
The name says it all. If your knowledge of jazz doesn’t go beyond Miles Davis or John Coltrane then prepare to be overwhelmed. If you’re a jazz lover then you already know about this place. They are the last word on Chicago jazz and a cool stop off Michigan Ave./Rush St. if you’re sick of big shiny retailers.

Permanent Records — 1914 W. Chicago Avenue, 773.278.1744
The hipsters are leading the comeback of vinyl so it’s only fitting that they get their own indie rock record store. Most of the items are new here which means you’re less likely to stumble on a cheap find, but when most of the albums come with MP3 downloads it makes the purchase highly gratifying. I have a vision of what the record store of the future will look like and this is it.

Kstarke Records — 1109 N. Western Avenue, 773.772.4880
Kevin Starke should be a lobbyist for the vinyl preservation society, considering what an advocate of good music he is. If you’re craving a new album to inspire you but feel lost in a music funk then this man will tear his store apart to find you something rare and riveting. His specialties are Chicago house, funk, hip hop, disco, old Chicago blues, international jazz and anything with a serious beat. He keeps an open copy of all his new records with two listening stations and a DJ booth which he manically changes for your listening pleasure.

Dusty Groove America –- 1120 N. Ashland Avenue, 773.342.5800
They’re big, accessible and a dynamic operation within their chosen genres. They’ve got Funk, Latin, Brazilian, Jazz, Hip-Hop and a sizable spinner’s collection for the DJ’s. These guys buy and sell with one of the most comprehensive websites geared for online sales. They also operate Dusty Groove, the label which records a number of soul artists’ re-released gems of the past. Chicago funk is alive and well and this place is living proof.

Logan Hardware -– 2410 W. Fullerton Avenue, 773.235.5030
As if most record stores weren’t facing a hard enough challenge, this place sounds and appears to be an old brick hardware store from the exterior, leaving most people confused when they walk in looking for a light bulb. Luckily they’re a retail front to the Chicago Independent Distribution, a music distributor that services many local labels. Because of this they have an entire section devoted to local Chicago groups. They sell a few turn tables on consignment and host a listening station of their own. Their selections are limited but their taste in reissued classics is impeccable.

Saki — 3716 W. Fullerton Avenue, 773.486.3997
You likely won’t find a record store with so much community built into the place. The large clean shop is a retail front for Carrot Top Records and houses more employees at any given time then actual customers. Named after the owner’s cat, this store flaunts its own personal taste in independent and up and coming bands. That said, they’ll track down and order anything you’re after, so feel free to chat them up. Operations like this one are what will keep the record industry alive, where music distribution is performed on all levels.

2nd Hand Tunes — 3759 N. Ravenswood Avenue, 773.868.4533
If there were ever a record store with an identity crisis, this is it. There were once three of these stores in the city of Chicago, but the chain collapsed and a new owner took up the name at the Evanston store. I’ve been to the Evanston shop and it’s a cool spot, though a bit pricey. But the real find is the 2nd Hand Tunes’ Warehouse Store located in a retail closet amongst the ceramics and antiques stores of Ravenswood Avenue. The owner personally sells his excess stuff here at nice prices one weekend out of the month. You’ll have to check their website for when that weekend takes place as it’s at the owner’s whim. For those who enjoy the hunt however, it’s a nice find.

Gramaphone Records –- 2843 N. Clark Street, 773.472.3683
If you’re a Disc Jockey then this is your record store. Rare Hip-Hop, House, Freestyle, Garage, Techno and a dozen other types of dance music is their specialty. They have an impressive CD and DVD collection that gets picked through regularly by the Clark St. crowd. They also sport plenty of DJ equipment and accessories for your spinning needs. Even if you’re not a DJ this place always makes for an interesting browse.

Dave’s Records — 2604 N. Clark Street, 773.929.6325
Just down the street from Gramaphone and the former location of 2nd Hand Tunes in Lincoln Park, Dave runs his shop proudly as a pure vinyl record store — anti-CDs even today, when compact discs are aging relics all on their own. They buy and sell with pride and boast a diverse collection, though I find their stock heavy on classic rock. If you’re a beginner in the vinyl world then Dave’s is a great place to start, having nursed me into the world of LP’s.

Groovin High Inc — 1047 W. Belmont Avenue, 773.476.6846
The quintessential record store. Big collection in a small space, meticulous pride taken in each stocked album, great location off the red line, super friendly and knowledgeable owner who will talk up anyone about music… when he actually bothers to open his store. Joe is so notoriously loved for his personality and resented for his erratic hours it’s comical and endearing. I find his prices run a bit high but then I can never get out of there without finding a ‘must buy’.

Hard Boiled Records & Videos — 2010 W. Roscoe Street, 773.755.2619
Owner Mark has a bit of everything here as a specialty store, but his vinyl is most prominent. His collection is modest in size but if you share his tastes in bands you’ll find their full repertoires stocked here. Talking Heads, The Smiths and anything Beatles gets a full collection at decent prices. No reprints, he thinks they’re overpriced.

Borderline Music — 3333 N. Broadway, 773.975.9533
There are a few places out there that mostly carry CD’s with a token number of records and this might be one of them. Catering to Boys Town, they stock heavy on the divas and gay performers. If you’re looking for a Madonna record then this is the place to go.

Deadwax –- 3819 N. Lincoln Avenue, 773.529.1932
A great vibe to this store makes for a warm visit and enjoyable browsing. The $1 bins are the best in the city here; with classic albums you keep meaning to buy but never seem to justify the price. For a buck you snatch them up and leave with a stack of records for chump change.

Laurie’s Planet of Sound — 4639 N. Lincoln Avenue
This is a Lincoln Square standby that stands on enough music radars to get a steady stream of shoppers. The category tabs are as eclectic as the music collection and their inventory is bigger then most. If you’re taking classes at Old Town then make a pit stop here for inspiration.

Hyde Park Records — 1377 W. 53rd Street, 773.288.6588
There’s something about Hyde Park that wouldn’t be complete without a good record store, and HPR meets the bill. Once the South Side 2nd Hand Tunes, the employees bought the joint when the chain closed and have been supplying an interesting mix of blues, hip-hop, and popular rock since. The store’s taste is reflective of Hyde Park’s mixed population, serving South Side locals and college students with a large and demographically fitting collection. Whereas most stores sport the new pricey albums up on the walls these guys put up the staff picks, a commendable effort.

Let’s Boogie Records & Tapes –- 3321 S. Halsted Street, 773.254.0139
The term “stuck in time” applies to this store perhaps more then any other, both the positive and negative connotations one would associate with that term. The owner must have drawn a line in the sand when CD’s came out because cassette tapes are their medium of choice outside of vinyl. The Bridgeport locale carries a decent collection of old rock but there’s more rare posters lining the wall then there are unique finds in the bins.

Beverly Records — 11612 S. Western Avenue, 773.779.0066
This is the oldest used record store in Chicago and believe me, it shows. If you’re looking to beef up your classic rock albums then you could spend hours wading through this massive collection. Be warned: this place is not conducive to browsing. The aisles are stacked and cramped with many of the albums they stock kept in multiple copies. I once asked to browse their country section and the man unlocked a sarcophagus in the back that redefined claustrophobia. The store maintains a list of inventory in three ring binders at the front so use them if you’re looking for something specific.

Mr. Peabody Records – 11832 S. Western Avenue, 773.881.9299
All those south side Soul, R&B and old school Hip-Hop LP’s had to go somewhere when the people of Beverly decide to dump their collections, and chances are this is where they ended up. A sizable and chaotic collection of 12 inch LP’s give this musky shop the balance of African American musicians that Beverly Records (next door) missed. Just look for the store that’s vibrating with bass. It’s also the only shop that I know of that will buy albums without the covers.

David Frankel McLean

About David Frankel McLean

I’ve been thinking philosophically about Chicago since I was jaywalking the streets at the age of 10. I don’t root for both baseball teams and I don’t put Ketchup on my hot dogs. When someone says they’re a Chicagoan they are speaking of a heritage and a doctrine, not just a location. What that doctrine is I’m not entirely sure, it’s constantly changing with the growth of the city and I’ll spend my entire life trying to figure it out.


  • September 15, 2010 | Permalink |

    Awesome list of Chicago record stores and excellent summaries of each one!

    • David Frankel McLean David Frankel McLean
      September 15, 2010 | Permalink |

      An honor to be complimented by such a vinyl connoisseur!

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