The best places to buy vinyl

Calgary has a great selection of locally owned record shops

In the first half of 2013 sales of recordings that play at 33 and 1/3 were up 33 per cent over the same time last year. The year 2012 in turn saw a similarly sizeable increase over 2011 which was up over 2010 and so on. For the last eight years in fact the once nearly obsolete vinyl record has been the sole piece of physical music media that not only hasn’t flatlined or underperformed but has continually increased its stake in the market. Which is why we’re now seeing record bins appearing in such unlikely places as London Drugs Urban Outfitters and even HMV (actual music at a chain music store — what marketing gimmick will they think of next!?).

But if you’re looking for those deep cuts the mall isn’t the best place to turn. Thankfully Calgary’s quota of independent record stores is amazing rivalling if not surpassing other major cities in terms of quality and quantity. So get on board the vinyl revival if you haven’t done so already and check out these local purveyors of wax stacks.


•1208 9 Ave S.E.

This stacked-to-the-rafters emporium of all things recorded isn’t just a regionally unique entity you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the country that peddles this kind of volume — over a million records (approx 250000 are on display the rest stored in overstock) plus 45s 78s reel-to-reel eight-tracks cassettes and CDs. (Note: most of the other stores on this list also carry other formats but that’s future fodder for our article on the great CD revival of 2023.)

Recordland which traces its roots back to a humble home operation and then a stall at Crossroads Market before owner Armand Cohen opened a full-fledged store in Inglewood in 1985 is a crate-digger’s paradise that has attracted such notable shoppers as Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood and DJ Shadow among others. They pretty much peddle everything: two rock sections (oldies from the ’50s and ’60s and post-1970) jazz blues reggae spoken word disco sound effects country hip hop folk… and on and on. No new releases here though — the Recordland crew are purists who deal exclusively in vintage originals.

One word of caution — it’s not the easiest place for a quick browse so be prepared to spend some time.


•114 10 St N.W.

The O.G. of Calgary independents Hot Wax has been spinning since 1978. Browsing through its racks you might get the impression that much of the used stock has been there since then but don’t let a few scuffy sleeves throw you off the trail — this is one of the best places in town to stock up on standbys n’ staples without breaking the bank. Lately I’ve picked up the likes of Willie Nelson Harry Nilsson and Roxy Music in perfectly good playing condition all for under $10 each. The stock turns over enough that it’s worth repeat visits as each batch brings in potential gems. A copy of The Replacements Pleased to Meet Me was recently spotted going for almost $10 less than what its contemporary reissue is retailing at elsewhere. Similarly the store’s copy of the Hoodoo Gurus’ Mars Needs Guitars goes for a third of the price of another store on this list with the same album ($5 versus $15 to be precise). Rock aside there’s plenty of jazz world country blues and more to comb through plus a decent selection of new releases.


•112 4 St N.E.

With a Facebook page that trumpets the arrival of releases by the Arcade Fire Braids and Ty Seagall Lukes’ Bridgeland location isn’t your typical neighbourhood drugstore. Sure the aforementioned London Drugs carries records now too but that’s not the kind of place where you’ll score DJ Koze’s latest or one of the Death Waltz Recording Co’s reissues of classic ’70s and ’80s horror soundtracks. This is where the small but exceptionally curated selection at Lukes has an edge. On the used side of things it’s equally impressive with a frequently rotating selection of staples and gems including such current offerings as a Capital Records “green label” Magical Mystery Tour with the original full-colour booklet and an original Harvest pressing of Pink Floyd’s Meddle .


•736 17 Ave S.W.

The employer of choice of local indie musicians Sloth despite its name has risen far and fast out of the dingy Fourth Street basement where it started in the ’90s. Its second-floor 17th Ave. digs are a bright welcome stop for everyone from area high school kids (Western is across the street) to aging enthusiasts. The bulk of the stock is new releases — lots of punk and indie rock (including a metal and hardcore 7-inch bin) but also features a decent selection of reggae hip hop and funk. While the used selection isn’t huge it’s almost always in good shape and affordably priced. Make sure you rifle through the staff picks at the front as you’re checking out. In doing so you’ll get a sense of what turns the crank of local musicians such as Devin Friesen (also a Fast Forward Weekly music writer) and members of the Ex-Boyfriends and Fist City.


•1502 11 Ave S.W.

With its back issues of newsprint-era Rolling Stones oversized poster collection and assorted music-related ephemera not to mention new and used vinyl stock heavy on classic rock jazz soul and country staples this barn-like 14th Street S.W. store feels kind of like the ultimate dad-rock clubhouse — which isn’t to say the joint caters to an all-boomer clientele. On a recent visit a young 20-something woman upon seeing me flipping through the “Js” took the opportunity to ecstatically endorse Elton John’s Tumbleweed Collection as the perfect breakfast record. Such is the atmosphere in one of the friendliest joints in town. And regardless of your taste you’d be hard-pressed not to find something to pique your interest here — just a few of the releases that have made their way from Heritage’s bins to my living room in the last while include: the soundtrack to the Mick Jagger-Anita Pallenberg film Performance a Japanese pressing of Brian Eno’s solo debut Here Come the Warm Jets and Eurhythmics’ underrated In the Garden a hard-to-find ’81 effort that features the members of Can D.A.F. and Blondie.


•2523A 17 Ave S.W.

This record shop within a comic store solidifies its position as the one-stop shop for geeks of all stripes.

The store has a large inventory of new releases leaning heavy on the indie and punk side of things but also a sizable “audiophile” selection of maximum fidelity rock jazz blues and funk reissues. The used selection rotates pretty regularly and is usually packed with more than a few gems — I’m kicking myself for not shelling out a mere $20 for that long-since gone copy of Hall of the Mountain Grill a.k.a. Lemmy’s last album with Hawkwind. But that near-mint copy of Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s Kicking Against the Pricks was worth all of the 3900 pennies it cost considering it’s on offer on eBay for at least that much (plus shipping) on the low end and over $100 at the top of the scale. Make sure you take a scan of the dollar bins too — they’re full of more Boz Scaggs than you’ll know what to do with but if you’re looking to build up your yacht-rock collection you can easily do so in one very affordable swoop.


•117 3411 20 St S.W. // 632 16 Ave N.W.

When it opened almost 10 years ago the Inner Sleeve was something of a funk and soul specialty stop but over time it has come to offer an impressive selection from a multitude of genres — pysch rock jazz blues punk classic rock etc etc. With its 2012 acquisition of approximately 30000 records (and 40000 CDs) from the CBC the scope and depth of the already large collection broadened further — so much so that it has expanded beyond their Marda Loop HQ taking over That Old Retro Store and rechristening it The Audio Spot. Like the former proprietor the new venture specializes in stereo equipment (both new and vintage) but also peddles a healthy selection of vinyl. For the first time since the CBC purchase the jazz and vocal jazz components of the library have been made available for purchase there along with goodies in all the aforementioned genres. Back at Marda Loop check out another recent score — a whack of rare prog-rock purchased from a private collector.