An Illustrated Guide to Record Shopping in Chicago
Nine record stores every man must shop before he dies
Update: Permanent Records, an InsideHook favorite and entrant to this list, closed up shop in July 2017. For the sake of posterity and nostalgic Chicagoans, the listing will stay up as a visual homage.
It’s no secret vinyl is making a massive resurgence: 2015 marked the tenth consecutive year that vinyl sales have increased, netting a 30 percent surge in that calendar year alone.
So while yes, there is surely a measure of truth to the widely reported slump for both local music retailers and the industry as a whole, plenty of local record stores are still thriving in a major way. Best of all? Chicago is home to a variety of top-notch ones.
And in spite of what High Fidelity might lead you to believe, they’re not all in Wicker Park.
To that end, we compiled a rundown of some of the best record stores Chicago has to offer. From Logan Hardware to Laurie’s Planet of Sound, read up on the Windy City’s must-visit record stores so you’ll know where to go crate digging no matter what neighborhood you find yourself in.
The Store: Reckless Records
Opened In: 1989 (the chain actually launched in London in 1984)
Go here for: The classic record-store vibe, a big-chain store selection and in-store live performances from big-time artists (i.e., Jack White, Smashing Pumpkins).
The Lowdown: With three locations in the city (Wicker Park, The Loop, Lakeview), Reckless is easily the most well-known record store in the city. The Wicker Park locale is now a 5,000-square-foot “mega store.” Each new record has a sticker with a staff review on it, harkening back to the idea of the local record store as your personal tastemaker. And while “Championship” from High Fidelity was never a real institution, many fans suggest nearby Reckless was its clear inspiration.
The Store: Dusty Groove
Opened In: 2001 (operating as a mail-based shipping business since 1996)
Go here for: That impossible-to-find rarity. Store owners have been known to purchase large-scale private collections from individuals and institutions. Specialties include funk, soul, African, Brazilian, Latin, hip-hop, jazz and disco.
The Lowdown: It may have roots (and a brick-and-mortar home) in Chicago, but Dusty Groove, named one of Rolling Stone’s “Best Record Stores in the USA,” is internationally known thanks in large part to its longtime online presence. In 2015 the store expanded its floor space for 50 percent more records and CDs. And this past summer, they celebrated their 20th birthday with a massive block party.
The Store: Numero Group Factory Outlet
Opened In: 2016
Go here for: Numero Group traffics in resurrecting lost or underappreciated music via their acclaimed compilations that span a variety of musical genres.
The Lowdown: If you aren’t already familiar with this gem of a record label, invest some time into Numero Group’s vast catalogue of releases, highlighted by their signature compilations of music from lesser-known bands and obscure artists revitalized for modern-day listening. After 13 years, the label opened a factory outlet store where you can purchase their entire back catalogue, online-only cassette mixtapes and other rarities like compilation LPs of outtakes and demos.
The Store: Permanent Records
Opened In: 2006
Go here for: Expert-curated punk and psychedelic music. Also a hotspot for old-school hip-hop, free jazz and soul.
The Lowdown: Another Wicker Park gem, this (relatively) new addition to the record store scene was so successful it spawned a Los Angeles sister store in 2011. Like Reckless, in-store live performances are a regular occurrence here: acts from the Flaming Lips to Waxahatchee and Majical Cloudz have performed here.
The Store: Logan Hardware Records
Opened In: 2010
Go here for: A dose of rare vinyl, vintage stereos and turntables, and vintage arcade and pinball cabinets.
The Lowdown: In case a record store in this day and age wasn’t hipster-friendly enough, this Logan Square must-visit also houses a vintage arcade. Every purchase grants patrons access to the Arcade Museum, which is stocked with more than 30 vintage arcade games and four pinball machines, all free to play. Consider this your double-dose of vintage vanity.
The Store: Laurie’s Planet of Sound
Opened In: 1997
Go here for: Super-rare vinyl and oddball VHS films from B-movie flops to cult classics.
The Lowdown: There’s a wacky flavor to this Lincoln Square mainstay: in addition to racks of mainstream and out-of-print vinyl and video, you’re likely to find strange antiques. And it’s all presided over by knowledgeable clerks who are eager to teach patrons a thing or two about pop culture. Be sure and watch out for fun contests and giveaways — Laurie’s has been known to run ticket contests for in-demand concerts.
The Store: Bric-A-Brac Records & Collectibles
Opened In: 2013
Go here for: Hard-to-find toys from your childhood, strange T-shirts, buttons, patches and, of course, an array of used vinyl and cassettes.
The Lowdown: The best part about this cozy corner store is that, unlike many snooty record stores, they don’t take themselves too seriously. As their website proudly proclaims, Bric-A-Brac is “your one-stop shop for all the necessities that no one really needs!” And plus, no one at this friendly store will judge you when you squeal with delight after scoring that vintage action figure you’ve been searching for.
The Store: Dave’s Records
Opened In: 1994 (previously 2nd Hand Tunes)
Go here for: Every kind of vinyl imaginable — from speed (33, 45, 78) to genre (everything from jazz to country to show tunes) — and personal attention from the store’s proprietor.
The Lowdown: Lest you think owner Dave Crain is jumping on the vinyl resurgence bandwagon, a seven-inch record hanging in the front window of this shop proudly displays its motto: “No CD’s! Never had ‘em!! Never Will!”
The Store: Hyde Park Records
Opened In: 2010
Go here for: Rare dance mixes; a deep selection of jazz, soul and disco; and an expansive selection of inexpensive DVDs.
The Lowdown: Go here for the true neighborhood record-store experience. Where Wicker Park or Lakeview are full of record stores to choose from, the South Side is sorely lacking. To that end, Hyde Park Records — particularly in the wake of longtime South Side record store Dr. Wax’s closing — has gladly worn the crown for many years as the South Side’s go-to record store.