A crate-digger checks out the goods at Lincoln Park's Gramaphone.
Contrary to the music industry's dire proclamations, the record store is not dead. In fact, among a certain breed of audiophile, vinyl is still the preferred format to listen to music, and the record store—not iTunes—is the hangout of choice. Specialty stores catered toward crate-diggers and LP collectors of almost every conceivable niche make their home in Chicago. Here are a few of note.
Dusty Groove America: For the Cigar-Smoking Cool Cat
Dusty Groove is made for the lover of obscure jazz, soul and R&B who spends much of his free time reading through his back collection of Downbeat magazine. The store's vinyl collection focuses primarily on new, used and reissued releases from a funkier era (the '70s and '80s.), as well as underground hip-hop. As you can imagine, fans of top 40 R&B may not recognize a good chunk of the names featured here, but you can guess from their awesomely intense album covers that these dudes are good at what they do.
Laurie's Planet of Sound: For the Kitsch Connoisseur
If the knick knack-covered walls don't already clue you in, digging through the racks at Laurie's will let you know that irony is a river that runs deep here. Laurie's features used-but-in-good-condition vinyl for all types of music fans, though hard-core vinyl collectors and music snobs may be less than impressed with the small selection. But if you just happen to be looking for a 45 of an obscure Brides of Funkenstein single, this is your place.
Beverly Rare Record Shop: For the Music Archivist
This South Side family-owned vinyl oasis has been around since 1967 and features decades worth of classic vintage and reissued LPs and 45s, as well as an impressive karaoke library (if you're into that.) Serious music collectors can chat with the knowledgeable—but not intimidating—music clerks, or dig through racks of classic and not-so-classic releases, mostly from the 60s and 70s. If Beverly is too long of a hike, stay home and browse a searchable database of the store's catalog.
Reckless Records: For the High Fidelity Hipster
Vinyl collectors of current bands (particularly of the indie and alternative rock variety) will never go wrong with Reckless. The store's Wicker Park location features an especially impressive selection of the latest rock vinyl releases, or you can place a special order for what's lacking.
Gramaphone Records: For the Party Starter
A venerated spot for fans and DJs of house and dance music, Gramophone was a cornerstone of Chicago's house-music scene in the '80s, though the store's history long predates it. Most of the city's hottest professional DJs stock up on wax and equipment here; it's a great place for fans to pick up the tunes that get your booty shaking, or for novice turntablists to get their feet wet.
Jazz Record Mart: For the True Music Obsessive
Are you looking for, say, any jazz record that was ever recorded? Chances are you'll find it at the historic Jazz Record Mart, which bills itself as the largest jazz/blues record store in the world. Yes, I said "the world." This cavernous, slightly outdated venue is like the Library of Congress for jazz. The selection is staggeringly large as well as broad; that means whether you are looking for swing, big band, spoken word or fusion you are likely to pick it up here. The store's massive size (and its whip-smart clerks) is like Shangri-la for jazz nuts and may be a bit intimidating for the curious or casual fans, but worth checking out no matter what side of the divide you happen to be on.