Editor’s Note: Breakdown Records is now closed.
I do own an iPhone. But at home, those melodic vibrations eclipsing the horns and rumbles of New York City come from a record player. With a nod to all things vinyl, I ventured across the outer boroughs, scouting for the best record shops, and in the process, found some friendly people, tasty food, and fantastic deals.
The vinyl adventure, one I highly recommend to anyone who likes music, always provides a rush of adrenaline: you never know what you’ll uncover. A real record shop seems moons away from the now defunct Virgin Megastore, where you didn’t need to dig to find a specific CD. At these six places, you’ll sift through The Cars’ first album and the Boss’s “Born To Run,” and you’ll soon realize you’ve been touching a museum’s worth of art on these 12×7 album covers. And the truth is, if you’re a city dweller, a vegetarian, or an animal rights activist, this is the closest you’re going to get to hunting in your lifetime. There may not be endless golden fields and gurgling brooks, but it’s exhilarating, liberating, and meditative—and it’s only a subway stop away.
Eat Records | 124 Meserole Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn | 718.389.8083 | eatrecords.com
Free-wifi, Mud coffee, used records, and LP’s complete Eat Records, a cozy spot that lures both the vinyl junkies and caffeinated literati. The credo is quality over quantity. They have the smallest seven-inch section I’ve ever seen, and yet you will struggle not to buy a postal crate of records. The locally sourced, reliably fresh menu changes daily and consists of artisinal cheeses, organic meats and vegetables, and sweet goodies from Sullivan Street Bakery. Taking a seat and a bite to eat at one of the wooden tables is a great way to break up the record digging. I left with a Pixies live LP for roughly $13, an 80’s psych LP by all-girl band The Pandoras for $10, and an early Wailers album for $15. All records could be labeled as “priced-to-sell.” They have a listening station, which is particularly helpful, as are the staff members who are more than willing to answer your questions. The nice surprise of this place is the outdoor patio, which is where I’ll be this weekend when Spring arrives.
The Thing | 1001 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn | 718.349.8234
Die-hard diggers swear by this place. All records are two bucks and they’ve got more titles than the New York Public Library. There are some crates on the street, a few more scattered throughout the junk shop, a jam-packed back room, and a stairway to a basement that is heaven for vinyl enthusiasts. Simply, there are a ridiculous amount of records. In this economic climate, it’s an affordable shopping spree (though time consuming) and could have you walking out with an armful of gems for 20 bucks. Downstairs you’ll see guys with rubber gloves and masks on. Why? Old records are musty and dusty and they shall leave your hands soiled and your lungs congested. I didn’t see a record player in the store, but a hardcore customer in the basement brought his own portable unit so go for it if you’re similarly equipped. I scored ELO’s Greatest Hits and Madonna’s “True Blue” for a total of four bucks.
Permanent Records | 181 Franklin St, Brooklyn | 718.383.4083 | permanentrecords.info
I finally took a gander at a store I’ve been passing by for months. This meant scouring the uncluttered shelves at Permanent Records, where the quantity is medium, the quality is high, and the atmosphere warms your back as you shop. Their specialty is independent music with a focus on the rock genre, but they stock essentials in all the major categories, including the oft-overlooked Soundtracks, World, and Folk realm. There’s a good balance of new and used and everything is appropriately priced with some desirable bargains in the mix. My two hours went fast: I held a $30 Misfits double seven-inch and wished I were wealthier; I listened on their turntable station while flipping through the dollar bins below; I picked up a sealed re-issue of the first Os Mutantes for $22, a clean used copy of Husker Du’s double-album classic “Warehouse Songs and Stories” for $10, and a new copy of “Black Star” for $17. The walls feature new releases, obscure comps, choice collectibles, and titles that may even stump a Pitchfork staff member. The lighting is pleasant—no blinking overheads—and the store is clean with no hint of used records, so douse your fears that your next classic purchase is oozing asbestos. They also stock CD’s and videos, though vinyl is the clear king. The cashier was exceptionally nice and helpful. No pretension here.
The Vortex | 222 Montrose Ave., Brooklyn | 718.609.6066
Less overwhelming but similar in spirit to The Thing, The Vortex is half organized by genre, half disheveled on shelves and in crates. But the motley collection is key, and don’t be surprised to find vintage nudie playing cards and post cards while you’re shuffling through the $10 and under records. I came across a Ben Vaughn 10-inch from Spain that seemed to be the rare gem of the day. I also took home a Supremes Christmas album to show off next year. I spent $5 total.
Academy Annex | 96 N. 6th St. (Between Berry & Wythe), Williamsburg | 718.218.8200 | academyannex.com
Academy Annex is no secret around town. They’ve got one in the East Village, one near Union Square, and one on North 6th in Williamsburg. Like many used stores, the “New Arrivals” have the highest concentration of quality. The walls are covered with obscure stuff that reflects the staff’s affinity for limited releases and out-of-print underground classics. A recent trip to the Brooklyn location added Wu-Tang’s “Enter The 36 Chamber” in near mint condition to my collection for $10. Hits by The Byrds and Love lulled me into the large store, and I may be back if I’m in the area, but keep in mind that its popularity heightens the picked-through factor.
Breakdown Records | 48-09 Bell Blvd, Bayside, Queens | 718.279.0040 | breakdownrecords.com
Breakdown Records is worth making the trek to Bayside, where the setting is reminiscent of the end of Goodfellas. While $2 records abound at both this store and The Thing, here the merchandise is ordered alphabetically and by genre. Low prices may suggest fewer gems, but every record store owner lets some choice picks slip through the cracks. On a recent trip, I found Nilsson Schmilson, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, a promotional copy of XTC’s English Settlement, and a small stack of others. There are plenty of Classic Rock essentials, which is nice for cheaply stocking your now even groovier collection.
How to get there: All locations are accessible via subway, and are mapped out below for your convenience.
Map of Featured Locations
Photos: Courtesy of wolvesatthedoor