What do two of the biggest DJs in the world do on their day off? Dig for vinyl — in Pittsburgh, of course.
Last November, I had the pleasure of interviewing DJ Shadow prior to his all-vinyl Renegades of Rhythm Tour with Cut Chemist, of Jurassic 5. Shadow told me that he had been coming to Pittsburgh to look for records since the late 90s, and he singled out Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill and Attic Records in Millvale as two of his favorites. Sure enough, both record stores popped up on Cut Chemist’s Instagram page the day before his and Shadow’s show at Mr. Smalls.
“Most cities don’t have one record store of their caliber, let alone two,” says Greg Eide, owner of Eide’s Entertainment.
It’s not just famous turntablists who recognize Pittsburgh as a hub for quality independent record stores. This past Saturday I ran into a couple from Youngstown, Ohio, who drove to Pittsburgh for the day to dig for records. Despite living as close to Cleveland as Pittsburgh, Heather Alvarez and Shawn Kelley prefer to visit Pittsburgh simply because the Steel City has more, and better, record stores than the Forest City.
Read on for a primer to Pittsburgh’s independent record stores, what makes each of them unique, and what they have planned for Record Store Day 2015.
513 Grant Avenue, Millvale
Song playing on the stereo: “Arena Negra,” by the Myrrors.
If you want it, you can bet the Attic has it. Fred Bohn Jr., who runs the store with his father, Fred Sr., says that they order new albums from more than twenty different distributors, both domestic and international. “We get metal from Sweden, UK-only pressings, and we order a lot of it,” says the younger Bohn. There’s also a huge collection of CDs for sale, not to mention the millions (!) of used LPs and 45s available in-store and in their nearby warehouse. And in a sign of the times, Bohn hopes to clear out some of the store’s CD space to make more room for vinyl.
1210 East Carson Street, South Side
Song playing on the stereo: “The Smartest Monkeys,” by XTC.
Dave’s has been located on busy East Carson Street for 19 years, and no member of the staff has worked there for less than 17. “It’s just like High Fidelity,” he jokes. There’s a large collection of new and used CDs, as well as used movies. The used vinyl collection is pretty thin compared to other stores in town, but the new vinyl section is well-curated and continues to expand. Dave’s has been voted “Best Local Store to Buy Music” by readers of the Pittsburgh City Paper for the past two years.
410 South Craig Street, Oakland
Song playing on the stereo: “You Doo Right,” by Can.
Desolation Row is literally just the front right corner of Caliban Book Shop, but that shouldn’t stop you from paying a visit. With such little space, there’s no room for filler. Distracted by a new Flying Nun Records compilation, I looked on with envy as another guest pulled a used LP by Ginger Baker’s Air Force. There are also new CDs for sale, and a small but thoughtful collection of books that includes many of the album-specific 33 1/3 series.
1121 Penn Avenue, Strip District
Song playing on the stereo: “Stay with Me,” by Faces.
Opened in 1972, in Etna, Eide’s traded for a while as Pittsburgh’s First Comics & Sci-Fi Shop. Today, Eide’s is a three-floor superstore located between downtown and the Strip. There’s an enormous selection of comics, memorabilia, posters, new and used records, new and used CDs, vintage magazines, books and pretty much anything else you can think up. Rock and metal are well represented, but country and hip-hop are not.
2136 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill
Song playing on the stereo: “Arms Full O’ Sweetness,” by Fats Waller
I simply cannot think of a better way to spend an afternoon than going for a slice (or 3) at Mineo’s, then spending an hour (or 3) at Jerry’s. There’s well over a million records and 45s for sale, all of it used, and around 95% of it priced at $5 or less. “This is a store for music lovers; not a museum,” says the store’s namesake (and local celebrity) Jerry Weber.
Do you want reggae? There’s an entire section. Looking for jazz? There’s an entire room. Need a turntable? Visit Galaxie Electronics, right next to Whistlin’ Willie’s 78s, both of which occupy space inside Jerry’s musical wonderland. Head up front to the “Good Stuff,” flip through the clean, affordable copies of Dylan and Zeppelin albums, and you’ll know why Rolling Stone named Jerry’s one of the Best Record Stores in the USA.
3138 Dobson Street, Polish Hill
Vintage Misfits posters adorn the walls of Mind Cure Records, which occupies the second floor of a three-story building that also houses Copacetic Comics and Lili Coffee Shop. Owner Mike Seamans opened the store in 2010, and in 2012 he started a record label under the same name. The label has put out singles by local bands and has reissued albums from the Pittsburgh hardcore scene of the ’80s. It has also been instrumental in supporting and bringing together the local punk scene. (The Gotobeds, who just signed to Sub Pop, released their first 7-inch on Mind Cure.) As for Mind Cure the store, you can of course expect an emphasis on punk and hardcore, but there’s also a great collection of funk, soul, and classic rock and roll records, as well.
515 E. Ohio St, North Side
Song playing on the stereo: “Power of 3,” by The Sax Pack.
Stedeford’s has bounced all over the North Side since its founding in 1964. The store has a little bit of everything inside, including a modest collection of new and used vinyl, cassettes, t-shirts and used DVDs. Their specialty lies in hard to find CDs, especially old-school hip-hop.
4526 Liberty Ave, Bloomfield
Song playing on the stereo: “What a Day (The Factory 1979),” by Throbbing Gristle.
Formerly Paul’s CDs, Sound Cat is owned by Karl Hendricks, whose band, the Karl Hendricks Trio, was signed to Merge Records in the ’90s. Every collection in Sound Cat is top-notch, from the imported music periodicals, to the music documentaries, and the new and used CDs. Many of the used records are sorted by genre, not band name, which is a great help to those looking to find something new.
Expect to find records here from bands and labels you won’t find anywhere else. This was the only store in town where I found albums by one of my favorite bands, Thee Oh Sees. Said one customer, Ryan DeNardis, of East Liberty: “I’ve never been to a [record] store before where I didn’t recognize so many of the bands.”
801 Penn Ave, Wilkinsburg
Song playing on the stereo: “Empire State of Mind,” by Jay-Z, feat. Alicia Keys
Upbeat opened in 1994 and specializes in all types of urban music. There’s a large selection of hip-hop, gospel, and R&B CDs for sale, as well as street documentaries and other underground DVDs. Local rappers can sell their mixtapes on consignment, and I also spotted a copy of new local hip-hop documentary Pittsburgh State of Mind for sale. Proprietor Matt Lemon says he’s phasing out his remaining collection of vinyl, so get there quick to score some classic ’90s hip-hop albums for 50% off.