Learn your way around Chicago's local record stores.
You already know the big chains—but the real treat of living in a city like ours is being able to explore its mother lode of independently owned music shops. Here are some of our favorites.
The Record Dugout (6055 W 63rd St, 773-586-1206) is a South Side haven that is a must-visit for singles fans. There are no CDs here, but the sheer volume of 7-inch records is breathtaking. The Dugout has practically every genre imaginable, but the soul and R&B selections are particularly strong. Customers can try out albums courtesy of the in-store turntable. Also check out Hyde Park Records (1377 E 53rd St, 773-288-6588), which is a few blocks north of the University of Chicago campus. In addition to a healthy supply of soul, hip-hop and jazz on vinyl and CD, there is an ample selection of indie rock. It also stocks hundreds of classical records at any given time, mostly 20th-century works.
Near North and North Sides
If you’re interested in blues or jazz, stop by the Jazz Record Mart (25 E Illinois St, 312-222-1467)—it has one of the best collections in the city. The music’s often broken up by regions (there’s a whole bin just for Chicago blues), and it’s also got a big selection of albums (some still sealed), R&B singles and 78s. Hi-Fi Records (2568 N Clark St, 773-880-1002) is a North Side haven for dance music—on any given day you’ll find club DJs testing the merchandise on the customer turntables. It’s also a really good store for rockabilly, garage, ’70s punk and psychedelia. One of the newest standouts in a busy scene, Groovin’ High (1047 W Belmont Ave, 773-476-6846) boasts a discriminating general-interest collection of vinyl and CDs, with particularly juicy reserves in jazz and soul. There’s a good selection of ’90s alt rock, too. While Shake, Rattle & Read (4812 N Broadway, 773-334-5311) has a decent selection of vinyl, CDs and cassettes, it also has an extensive backstock of old rock magazines and books. Gramaphone Records (2843 N Clark St, 773-472-3683) remains the city’s steadiest purveyor of vinyl for dance music.The small but well-rounded Dead Wax (3819 N Lincoln Ave, 773-529-1932) has superb titles in classic rock, dance, jazz and country, plus nonintimidating customer service. It’s quiet and not very well traveled, so you aren’t elbowing anyone as you sift through the store’s tons of used vinyl. Fans of independent movies should check out Hard Boiled Records & Video (2010 W Roscoe St, 773-755-2619)—the owner is a world-renowned expert on kung-fu film, and the shop has a great selection of used vinyl, including lots of indie and electronica. If you’re in Lincoln Square, hit Laurie’s Planet of Sound (4639 N Lincoln Ave, 773-271-3569). Not only is it good for rock titles, but discs are broken down into subcategories (“garage/psych,” “local bands”) that for once are actually helpful. There’s a modest selection of vinyl as well, but the CDs are the real meat of the store, with all categories stocked in depth—old and new.
Near West and West Sides
Reckless Records (1532 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-235-3727), which also has a North Side location (3161 N Broadway, 773-404-5080), is the classic, all-purpose record store. Even though the focus here is alternative and indie rock, there are finds in all genres. An added bonus: There are frequent markdowns on slow-moving titles. Crazyman Records (1657 W Division St, 773-489-9848) is great for classic rock and country records, while Dusty Groove (1120 N Ashland Ave, 773-342-5800) specializes in ’70s funk, jazz and salsa on both vinyl and CD. If you have access to a car, it’s worth the trip to Out of the Past (4407 W Madison St, 773-626-3878): This cavernous West Side store is popular with local fans of “dusties” (that’s Chicago analogspeak for older R&B), and the community atmosphere is a plus. Don’t forget to check out the list of Chicago’s Top Dusties behind the sales counter.
If you’re going to school just north of the city, Vintage Vinyl (925 Davis St, 847-328-2899) is a little on the expensive side, but the price tag guarantees immaculately preserved British rock, especially of the ’60s-psychedelic variety. Also in that neck of the woods is Dr. Wax (1615 N Sherman Ave, 847-475-8848), which also has North Side and Hyde Park locations. It’s a general-interest store that mixes contemporary hits with esoteric indie-label faves from all genres, with reasonable prices on all used products.