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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Overcast with Haze
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Vinyl Cave: Where does all this stuff come from, anyway?
Records await their new owners the night before St. Vincent de Paul's annual collectible record sale.
Records await their new owners the night before St. Vincent de Paul's annual collectible record sale.
Credit:Bob Koch

The vinyl LP was all but given up for dead two decades ago, as the corporate music industry embraced the then-recent compact disc and phased out LPs. Through the '90s, independent and specialty labels -- as well as the rise of DJ culture and hip-hop to the mainstream -- kept the format alive. During the past decade, the industry has suffered repeated blows as a function of the decision to go digital, as the technology has morphed in ways that the big record labels really had no response for. Somewhat ironically, the major labels are now returning to the LP as a marquee product, as CD sales have tanked.

The past decade has also been a time of strife for independent music stores, because many of the folks who still pay for music rather than downloading it for free are also doing so online. In Madison, we're lucky to still have a wide variety of places where those who want to browse for music can do so the old fashioned way, in person. Occasionally, there's even special events that draw hordes of serious and casual collectors, such as St. Vincent de Paul's annual collectible record sale, which took place Nov. 5-7.

Here's a roundup of locations where that previously slated for extinction vinyl format can be found, as of this fall.

Record shops
Once again, this generic term often includes vinyl at many locations. Based on my years of experience as a confirmed bargain hunter, I had planned to give some specific comparisons on how records are priced at various stores. But after a very unscientific analysis while "researching" (i.e., shopping) over the past few weeks, the only pattern that emerged is that there isn't much of a pattern. Some shops tend to be a tad higher priced but are the lowest in some cases, and vice versa. That's a good trend for comparison shoppers, because if a record seems too high priced in one store it may not be too hard to find that specific title priced lower somewhere else. In most cases, though, the differences aren't much more than a dollar or so.

B-Side Records
436 State St.; 255-1977; Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
While most of record stores on State Street have disappeared, B-Side is still at its tightly packed shotgun-style storefront just up the block from Lisa Link Peace Park. The 2009 Madison's Favorites winner in the "Place to Buy Music" category has managed to expand their selection of new vinyl by rearranging the center island racks a bit. Their racks are strongest on current and classic indie rock, but there's hip-hop, jazz, soul and various other genres as well. As with their CD section, the shop does well at staying on top of new local releases available as records. Keep an eye out for sale stickers, as they've started to discount titles that stay in the bins for awhile.

Ear Wax
254 W Gilman St.; 257-6402; Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 12-5 p.m.
Specializing in punk and metal, Ear Wax has always had the best and widest selection of those genres in Madison, and that focus spills over into the vinyl racks. Even when new vinyl was nearly impossible to find without ordering it online, the shop continued to stock available new titles (including reissues of catalog titles) alongside their used bins. These days, there's usually more new LPs than used available, as well as a good selection of new and used 7-inches and a smattering of records across all other genres.

Exclusive Company
508 State St.; 255-2433; Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Though the west side location closed awhile back, the downtown location's vinyl section has seemingly doubled since then. If there's a specific classic rock era reissue you're looking for on vinyl and you have to have it today, Exclusive is probably the place to look first. A recent trip uncovered many new issues of older LPs both expected (Doors, Talking Heads) and unexpected (Brady Bunch, Hank Williams Jr., late period Kinks). They also have several bins worth of marked down titles, and a few used albums in the front of the store -- though those were mostly albums one would expect to see in thrift stores (Ed Ames, anyone?), and priced accordingly.

MadCity Music Exchange
600 Williamson St.; 251-8558; Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. 12-5 p.m.
It's been nearly two years since counterman-turned-owner Dave Zero took over MadCity; during that time the store has undergone gradual remodeling and reorganization, including a continuing expansion of the new vinyl selection. With many new albums being produced in limited quantities, MadCity does a good job of keeping current titles restocked and in the shop while they're still available, and also offers an always-interesting selection of catalog titles when they return to print, including some imports that are tough to find elsewhere. There's also tons of used LPs and Madison's biggest selection of 45s. With most vintage LPs in the $4-$6 range -- and dollar bins that lower to 50 cents each when buying 10 or more -- MadCity is a bargain hunter's paradise. The uninitiated can check out the store's layout (and see how not to treat records) in an infomercial parody currently on YouTube.

Resale Records
2401 Commercial Ave.; 249-4364; Mon.-Fri. noon-5:45 p.m., Sat. 12:30-6 p.m., Sun. 12:30-5 p.m.
Resale remains a used-only store, and as a commercial space may be as funky as it gets in often-upscale Madison (it's in an old converted auto garage). But it's one of the first places bargain hunters should visit, and has inspired a devoted customer base over the past few decades; the standard price for albums remains in the $3-$4 range, and there's usually a large selection of dollar LPs as well. The store has less back stock on hand these days than in the past (and all the large, inviting piles of 45s went away several years ago), so those searching for a specific title may be disappointed. But anyone feeling musically adventurous will always find some records at Resale which he or she has likely never seen before.

Strictly Discs
1900 Monroe St.; 259-1991; Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Founded about two decades ago as a compact disc-only store, Strictly Discs added some new and used vinyl by the millennium, and their selection has continued to grow ever since. Owner Ron Roloff says the store's vinyl section will be getting much bigger soon; the basement area, where dedicated record hounds have shopped the annual Monroe Street Festival sales for bargains, is undergoing major renovations. One room is already stuffed with racks of LPs awaiting pricing, plus a large bargain bin section (it's currently open to vinyl hunters during most regular business hours). There will also be a DJ booth/performance area and office for the store's website business added as well. Roloff says some of the renovations should be in place by the time of the store's next customer appreciation event, set for 4-9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 19.

Sugar Shack
2301 Atwood Ave.; 256-7155; Mon.-Thu. noon-7 p.m., Fri. noon-8 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 12-4 p.m.
Formerly on State Street, Sugar Shack decamped for the east side several years back. Their vinyl selection has been mostly of the used variety since the move, though a few crates worth of new LPs (mostly classic soul, jazz and rock reissues) appeared by the front counter recently. Their prices on used LPs tends to be a bit higher on average than most Madison stores, but their full-price used stock is also always in top-notch condition. And they do have a large bargain bin ranging from quarter LPs to more collectible titles marked down due to condition issues.

Digging deeper
Beyond the dedicated record stores, records still tend to turn up in a variety of places, from bookstores to antique malls to DJ equipment stores. There are stashes at many more locations than these, but here's the places where seekers are more likely to find new stock often.

Adam's Used Records Emporium
Madison-based, but mail order only, Adam's Used Records Emporium may be the strictest grader in town. His site is a good source of LPs for bargain hunters -- and a good reference to have if hunting for a specific title.

Antiques Mall of Madison
4748 Cottage Grove Rd., 222-2049; Mon.-Wed. and Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thu. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Records can be found at nearly all of the city's antique stores, but Antiques Mall of Madison features two sellers focusing almost exclusively on vinyl. One seller has mostly LPs, and while the pricing can be a bit on the high side for Madison (but still less than the same titles would cost if searching for them online) the selection is also more interesting than your typical batch of LPs. The other seller offers nearly all 45s, and they're usually a buck each.

Audio Depot
708 E Johnson St.; 268-0749; Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Audio Depot's focus is on equipment for live performers and DJs, but there's always several racks of records aimed at the DJ market in the back of the store. It's a good place to pick up a new cartridge and stylus for your old record player, and the shop can help with service as well.

Best Buy
2452 E Springs Dr. (East Towne); 242-0701; and 7357 W Towne Way (West Towne); 829-1188; Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Located in the heart of chain land, Best Buy is once again offering new vinyl titles. The vinyl section focuses on reissues of classic titles and new mainstream rock/hip-hop, with some store exclusive -- and expensive -- packages.

Frugal Muse Books Music & Video
235 Junction Road (Prairie Towne Center); 833-8668; Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; 1193 N. Sherman Ave. (North Gate); 242-0000; Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Frugal Muse still offers quite a few LPs at its North Gate location, and they're mostly a buck or two, so turnover is quick when they come in. There's also been LPs off and on at their west side location, which recently moved next door to the far west side Target.

Good Style Shop
402 E Washington Ave.; 441-1323; Tue.-Thu. noon-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun noon-5 p.m.
The Good Style Shop's vinyl section isn't large -- only a few bins worth. But what's there is consistently interesting, and I've yet to make a trip without finding something to take home from the store's racks. New vinyl is from independent labels in various underground genres, and there's LPs here you won't see anywhere else in town. Any genre is likely to turn up in the reasonably priced used LPs, and there's a few 45s as well.

Half Price Books
4250 East Towne Blvd.; 244-1189; and 626 S. Whitney Way; 273-1140; Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.- 8 p.m.
The biggest selection of vinyl at non-music only stores is likely at the two Madison locations of the Half Price Books chain. For more in-demand or collectible titles, both locations seem to follow strict price guide pricing, often without much regard for the record's condition; expect to see lots of beat up but pricey Beatles LPs, and other more collectible titles at somewhat inflated prices. (That being said, someone's apparently buying them, so more power to them if they can get $30 for a trashed copy of Sgt. Pepper's.) Lots of good music still goes out for more reasonable prices, though, and both stores still have a large dollar bin and sell 45s -- so all is not lost for buyers on a budget. During the past few years my best scores at Half Price have nearly all been from the dollar bin, some of which were titles marked down when they didn't sell.

MC Audio
515 University Ave., 251-7746; Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Another store aimed at DJs, MC Audio has a large selection of hip-hop, house, techno and other club-spinning genres -- mostly 12-inch singles.

St. Vincent de Paul
1309 Williamson St.; 257-0673; Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; 6301 Odana Rd.; 278-2924; Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-7:45 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; and 1900 S. Park St.; 250-6370; Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Record hunting in Madison thrift stores is dominated by the Willy Street location; the store has the biggest selection and turnover in Madison (including a couple large drawers worth of 45s). The store also does an annual collectible records sale in the basement, and it's taking place this week. The "Record Release Party" pre-sale started Thursday, November 5, with this first day replete with frenzied collectors. The sale continues during regular hours Friday and Saturday, November 6-7. In addition to vinyl (including 78s), there's collectibles, turntables and other related items for sale. Admission is a $5 donation for the organization's food pantry.

Did I miss your favorite spot? If so, feel free to leave a comment, so I can get there first next time and scarf up all the good records. Just kidding... sort of.

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