Philly’s Top Five Independent Record Shops
Beautiful World Syndicate
Passyunk Square: 1619 East Passyunk Avenue
Vinyl-lovers come here for the rarities: long-forgotten Philly soul records, little-known punk albums, signed jazz collections. They come to talk music with the clerks—heavily tattooed über-hip guys who would shudder at being called “über-hip”—and comb through the front table of new (used) arrivals, and chuckle about the weird relics they’ve found hidden in record sleeves (illicit love letters, nude photos, and an old joint tucked in—where else?—a Pink Floyd album).
Go here for: Obscure garage punk records at wallet-friendly prices.
Old City: 27 North 2nd Street
This airy warehouse-like shop telegraphs a ’60s psychedelic vibe (like a $500 Captain Beefheart box set), but you’ll also find rare soul albums, hip-hop, jazz, and a hefty dose of electronica and progressive rock. A recently beefed-up vinyl section holds court in front, but CD devotees will discover a formidable selection in the rear, with helpful descriptions scrawled on the plastic wrappers.
Go here for: A mammoth on-sale CD section.
Gold Million Records
Bryn Mawr: 851 West Lancaster Avenue
It’s more museum than record shop; the records here are stacked in vertical cases like books, and walls feature artwork by legendary album cover artist Cal Schenkel, longtime Frank Zappa collaborator. The shop, owned by Max I. Million (yes, her real name) and her husband Harold Gold, deals mostly in vintage vinyl, with some new releases, random memorabilia and odd accessories. (Max crafts jewelry and housewares from old records.) Worth the trip as much for the storytelling as the records: Ask about the couple’s years in business as Plastic Fantastic in Ardmore—then ask Harold about that kiss from Debbie Harry.
Go here for: Vintage rock albums from the ’60s and ’70s.
Main Street Music
Manayunk: 4444 main street
You can hear the music bellowing from this store before you even reach the door. (It’s loud in here, people.) This makes it difficult to hear CDs in the shop’s three listening stations, but then again, it’s more fun to ask music-buff owner Pat Feeney for his recommendations anyway. (Right now, he’s loving Father John Misty’s Fear Fun, a trippy folk-rock album.) Pat mainly stocks recent CD releases, but the well-edited collection of vinyl can yield gems like Willie Nelson’s Stardust LP for a mere $4.
Go here for: The new CD you just heard on WXPN.
South Street: 538 south street
The place for the obsessive vinyl fan. Crate-diggers will unearth rock in all of its forms—alt, punk, hard-core, indie—along with the occasional rarity (think: original Tom Waits albums). There are new and used CDs, but the vinyl section is where the treasures are; head to the basement to pore over used LPs at rock-bottom prices.
Go here for: New vinyl releases.