Anyone who’s running a record store today is a miracle worker.
With the big chains gone, small, independent record stores have become the reigning merchants. Consequently, the sprawling, all-things-to-all-people approach, exemplified by the defunct Capitol Hill branch of Everyday Music, has waned (with the exception of Silver Platters in Bellevue). In its place are more compact businesses that appeal to niche tastes while still striving to cover as many bases as possible.
Thankfully, Seattle is blessed with an abundance of great record stores to service folks who value vinyl and CDs’ audio advantages (and cassettes’ quaintness). It was difficult for us to narrow this guide to a few shops, but you can’t go wrong by starting at these places.
(Heads-up: All of these stores buy, sell, and trade used vinyl.)
📸: Spin Cycle
Spin Cycle presents a three-pronged analog heaven, selling new and used records, plus vintage movies and video games in various formats. The store does a fine job ordering new releases and scoring choice used vinyl, maintaining a rewarding mix of genres and eras. The new hip-hop, metal, pop, jazz, and rock selections are perennially strong, and the high-ticket items on the wall—per a July visit—range from classic-rock staples (The Beatles’ Abbey Road) to stoner rock (Kyuss’ Sky Valley) to prog (Gentle Giant’s Acquiring The Taste) to blues (John Lee Hooker’s Urban Blues) to novelty LPs (William Shatner’s Transformed Man). That same visit unearthed a copy of Harmonium by current British cult group The Soundcarriers for $120, just sitting in NEW ARRIVALS like a commoner. Spin Cycle always yields such pleasant surprises.
Hex Enduction Records & Books
📸: Hex Enduction Records & Books
Named after a classic album by UK post-punk group the Fall, Hex Enduction is perhaps the greatest cultural fortress ever to inhabit Lake City. The formidable book section—overseen by co-owner Gabi Page-Fort, a Harper-Collins editor who also plays in the band Tissue with her partner/Hex co-owner Dean Whitmore—favors highbrow fiction and nonfiction and flaunts several music-oriented tomes. In mid-July, they welcomed an influx of punk-centric books. The even more formidable music stock reflects Whitmore and third owner Tom Ojendyk’s decades of deep knowledge re: multiple genres. Consumers fanatical about jazz, psych- and prog-rock, experimental, library music, punk, and metal will want to spend hours scrutinizing the bins. Like all the best music retailers, Hex maintains a wonderful balance of new and old selections and keen instincts for the most important reissues. Hex Enduction’s only shortcoming is its lack of space, a problem that plagues many of these businesses.
Wall Of Sound
Since 1990, the tiny but expertly curated Wall Of Sound has peddled the zenith of avant-garde music to discerning aficionados. Due to space limitations, Wall Of Sound owners Jeffery Taylor and Michael Ohlenroth have abided by an all-killer/no-filler ethos. The duo know their clientele’s left-field tastes and have excelled by stocking covetable new and used vinyl, CD, and cassette releases from various strata of the global underground, with plenty of rarities to sate elite collectors. Taylor and Ohlenroth’s honed aesthetics shine in the ambient, jazz, psychedelic-/progressive-rock, electronic, experimental, and world-music genres. However, one recent Saturday, a local singer entered WOS looking for gospel records; she exited with three such LPs.
📸: Dave Segal @ Georgetown Records
Georgetown Records boasts the most dazzling wall of vinyl rarities in the city. Owner Martin Imbach must have a secret channel to top European collectors, because nobody else in town deals the quantity of mega-bucks heat that he does. Records by super-obscure prog and psych artists from the Continent about which you’ve only read in zines or dusty corners of the internet occupy the upper reaches of said wall. Even if you’ve immersed yourself in subterranean music for decades, you will still see titles you’ve never heard of; for example, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Illimité and Pierre Henry’s Maléfices. This is not where you go to score the latest buzz band or pop sensation, although GR does have some releases by current artists. Rather, this venerable establishment is mainly geared to seasoned collectors with epicurean tastes and serious disposable income. Some rabid fan of Tacoma garage-rock legends the Fabulous Wailers dumped their most valuable LPs here, and the cabinet under the register housed lustrous box sets by Jimi Hendrix, Faust, and Nick Drake. That being said, a Funko Pop! figure of Metallica‘s James Hetfield incongruously sat on the counter.
Sonic Boom Records
📸: Sonic Boom
If you’ve not been to this Ballard landmark recently, you may be startled to see a dwindling number of CDs and books and no magazines on the racks. Chalk up these moves to vinyl’s growing hegemony. Manager Jefferson Petrey explained that CD sales have been contracting while vinyl revenue has been ascending. Ergo, Sonic Boom plans to dramatically expand its vinyl metal and soundtracks sections. But far from being a specialist establishment, Sonic Boom tries harder than most retailers to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Among the businesses profiled here, it has the biggest selection of popular-ish new rock, hip-hop, electronic, and jazz releases. And Petrey has done a remarkable job keeping the experimental-music and avant-jazz bins stocked with greatness. Also strong are Sonic Boom’s reissue, 7-inch singles, and box-set games. Among the latter, high rollers can cop Nirvana’s Nevermind, Popol Vuh’s Volume 2: Acoustic And Ambient Spheres, David Bowie’s Brilliant Adventure, Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels, and Engine Kid’s Everything Left Inside, among others. And if you’re looking for a turntable, Sonic Boom sells Audio-Technica models.
📸: Daybreak Records
Renowned for its used vinyl, Daybreak succeeds mainly due to owner RJ Sweeney’s aggressive pursuit of record collections. His profound knowledge of various strains of metal, punk, reggae, dub, and dancehall has enabled Sweeney to score many coups among those genres. With a similarly proactive and inventive Instagram presence, Daybreak entices customers with posts chock-full of recent arrivals, emphasizing rapid reaction time, so as not to miss out on the treasures, most of which are original pressings. One July visit included Prince’s Controversy, the United States Of America’s self-titled LP, Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade, and the Godz’s Third Testament. During warm days, Daybreak rolls up its garage door, allowing patrons to feel the breeze as they browse. In a thoughtful move that one wishes more shops would make, Daybreak stocks record jackets, paper inners for 12-inches and 7-inches, and plastic liners.
Other Seattle shops worth serious browsing time:
📍 Easy Street Records: 4559 California Ave SW
📍 Royal Records: 2 W Roy St
📍 Light In The Attic: 472 1st Ave N
📍 Beats And Bohos: 7200 Greenwood Ave N
📍 Jive Time: 3506 Fremont Ave N
📍 Silver Platters: 2616 Bellevue Way, NE, Bellevue
📍 Fat Cat: 4515 Meridian Ave N
📍 Neptune Music: 4344 Brooklyn Ave NE