As a kid, I remember riding my bike into Lemon Grove, where Keith's Record Den once stood. It was your classic independent record shop, with racks of vinyl (CDs? Not even invented, and cassettes were just making their way into the marketplace) and cool album covers and posters. "Keith" was the owner...he looked a bit too old to really like Creedence, but he was friendly and always showed me what just arrived. It was when rock and roll was always fresh and innovative...and it's a nice memory I have of my youth.
Of course, we all know vinyl gasped its last breath in the early 1990s, and the CD format took over the scene. Mom and pop record shops died out as well...Keith's Record Den barely made it through the '70s.
So, now we see music downloads as the future, CD sales are dropping, and music stores are disappearing: Tower Records is on the verge of bankruptcy, the Wherehouse is gone, and Sam Goody is a poor excuse for a record shop. But believe it or not, the independent record store survives. Sure they may be a bit more eclectic than back in the day, but they thrive nonetheless.
Here is my roundup of a few of the best local record stores that San Diego has to offer, and are still exposing kids to new and cool music.
Lou's Records in Encinitas is the king of record shops. And if you're a fan of Amoeba Records in L.A., then Lou's is your place. Whether you're looking for mainstream music or oldies, Lou's has it - or can get it. And the vinyl selection will have old schoolers like me in memory heaven. Better yet, Lou's has the reputation of some of the most knowledeable music staff anywhere, and they often have live artist appearances. 434 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, 760-753-1382.
Off the Record
Arguably one of the best record stores in town, this venerable outlet recently moved to a new location in North Park, away from the incresingly gentrified Hillcrest. Off the Record is the place to go for those ever-so-cool, non-mainstream artists (a nice selection of punk and alternative bands). But it's the vinyl collection that is the attraction...some really cool old stuff that your parents listened to. You may feel like the most square person in there, but no will notice. 2912 University Ave., North Park (619) 298-4755.
M-Theaory started as a little shop in the Golden Hill/South Park neighborhood as a proverbial new kid on the block but the owners have old-school sensibilities by offering an eclectic mix of music, including local artists, in a cool and comfortable retail space. M-Theory has since left Golden Hills for digs in Mission Hills but the owners and staff are still some of the most knowing and helpful around. 915 W Washington St (between 9th Ave & Goldfinch St), San Diego, CA 92103, (619) 220-0485
Off the Record used to get all the buzz when it was in Hillcrest, but Record City is the one still standing after its competitor left for North Park. Many prefer Record City over other places because of their sale bins, where you can find that vinyl treasure you've been humming in your head. It's nothing much to look at, but who cares if you can just hunker down a flip through records, right? 3757 6th Ave (between Evans Pl & Robinson Ave), San Diego, CA 92103, (619) 291-5313.
Folk Arts Rare Records
This beloved record store once housed in a bungalow in Normal Heights is the best place to find all the music that doesn't fall under "rock" or "popular." From folk to country to blues to Vaudeville, you'll find those rare gems not only in LP format, but in 78 rpm as well. Folk Arts moved out of its former bungalow, but owner/archivist Lou Curtiss found another locations just down the street, still on Adams Ave in Normal Heights. 2881 Adams Ave, San Diego, 92116 - (619) 282-7833.
If punk and ska are your musical leanings, then start at Taang Records. Yet another establishment in the Hillcrest/Mission Hills/NorthPark area, these purveyors of vintage punk definitely have the credibility among the devoted vinyl hounds. Even better, Taang is an actual record company, with its own stable of Taang artists. Very cool. 3830 5th Ave (between Robinson Ave & University Ave), San Diego, CA 92103, (619) 296-4015.
Nickelodeon Records, in Normal Heights, is one of the quirkier record shops in town. The place is owned by Ruth and Elizabeth. Both of these women are over 60, which makes them mean, knowledgeable about records, excellent graders of condition, and fair pricers. You want quirky? In addition to value in buying record collections, they place strong emphasis on the unusual in both artists and cover art. For example, behind one section in their store titled "Music for Dining" is a "Smoking Section." All of the artists are pictured holding or smoking cigarettes. You gotta love that. 3335 Adams Ave (between 33rd St & Felton St), San Diego, CA 92116, (619) 284-6083