A Buyer’s Guide To Pittsburgh Record Stores
By Zachary Wenzel
This is a confession: I love records. I can’t think of a better way to listen to music. Few other things give the physical feeling of ownership of a special piece of music. Downloading a couple of mp3’s isn’t going to make you feel like you have anything unique and in most cases you can hardly see the album art in a little thumbnail on your iPod. Much like the Twilight Zone, records are an experience of the mind through sight and sound. Since vinyl is the ultimate format, shouldn’t we take where we get our records seriously? Boxes of used records can be beat up and smell like basement (with vintage mildew!) while new records can get expensive and can be harder to find. Meanwhile on Ebay and other corners of the internet, people gouge you with shipping and claim even the most mundane of albums are “SUPER RARE” and even the most worn out “Looks Unplayed!.” Well here is a list of some record stores around town you can check out to get quality records that you won’t regret:
A cool little Shop in South Oakland on Atwood Street. The guy who runs the place has been at the counter every time I’ve walked in. He is pretty friendly and even knowledgeable about the records he has in his store. More than once I’ve asked him about something I wasn’t familiar with and he quickly offered a story about when he saw The Alarm in concert or about neighborhood spots where the Iron City Houserockers used to play back in their glory days. There’s a pretty diverse collection of records here with about 60% being used. There is also an interesting selection of eclectic CDs, movies and even books (try to ignore the discount boxes of porn they sell unless you’re into that sort of thing). Good Prices and good variety.
Favorite Record: Metallica, The Legendary Garage Tapes
Everyone in Pittsburgh who likes records has been to Jerry’s at least once to explore this huge location on Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill. The place was even named one of America’s best record stores in Rolling Stone Magazine back in 2010. Jerry himself is a pretty cool guy who’s usually manning the counter and spinning discs while you shop. Speaking of which, there are also a number of turntables around the store to test out the records before you buy them, a feature that most places lack. Definitely the biggest record store I’ve ever been in, it has three or four large rooms stacked to the ceilings with records of all genres. The sheer quantity of quality, affordable records is staggering. Jerry’s has vastly more used records than new ones and sometimes it can be difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for. Although on the upside, I usually find something cool that I didn’t even know that I was looking for (Like a 12 inch Twisted Sister single!). This is the best place to buy used records hands down. If it was ever really popular there is probably a copy here under 6 dollars.
Favorite Record: Billion Dollar Babies, Battleaxe
Desolation Row is actually a store within a store. Located in the back of the Caliban Book store on Craig Street (Near where the awesome Wicked Discs used to be, R.I.P.). There is a surprising amount of records crammed into a relatively small space. They are mostly brand new sealed records, the vast majority of which are modern music and Indie releases instead of just reissued albums. These can get kind of pricey but their used record bin does have some treasures too. Often there are even some local band’s records for sale. The biggest problem with is only about two people can see the records at a time due to the tight space they’ve been sequestered in, and I’ve had to shove some people out of the way before. This can be annoying but they’ve got a pretty good collection.
Favorite Record: Stanley Turrentine, The Baddest Turrentine
Sound Cat is located in Bloomfield on Liberty Ave. This place stood out to me because it was one of the few record stores with more new records than used, like Desolation Row. You’ll find a lot of Indie stuff here but they also have a good selection of reasonably priced reissues in all genres. I was also impressed with their small collection of LPs by local Heavy Metal Bands. They also sell Cd’s and movies too. It’s definitely worth checking out and it’s in a pretty neat neighborhood.
Favorite Record: Oh Shit They’re Going to Kill Us, Cryptozoological Attack
I had to include this on the list because it’s one of the few chain stores that I have been to with a decent selection of records for sale. With local locations in Oakland and Squirrel Hill, The Exchange offers a fairly decent amount of used records for pretty cheap. You might find something cool if you dig past a lot of junk records that have been there for literally years because no one wants them. They have some pretty neat reissues and new records for sale too but they usually seem overpriced. It might just be my preference for independent stores coming out though and it’s really not a bad place.
Favorite Record: Dimmu Borgir, Death Cult Armageddon