Record stores represent more in an increasingly digital world than retail spaces that feed a consumer demand for physical copies of fresh releases and old favorites.
They're gathering places for not just new music discovery but also camaraderie with like-minded listeners of your favorite genres. During any given trip to your local record shop, you're always a band t-shirt complement away from making a new friend with impeccable taste.
Indeed, the eight independent shops or chains below exemplify the commercial appeal of the ongoing vinyl boom as well as the community-building possibilities of modern music stores.
Our list spans the Southeast (which includes Missouri, per college football geography) and Southwest, starting in Georgia and working west to a pillar of the Austin, Texas music scene.
Wuxtry Records (Atlanta and Athens, Ga.)
The original Wuxtry location opened in Athens, Ga. in 1976, giving what would soon become a preeminent rock scene its own vinyl destination. Two years later, a second store opened in Decatur, a city northeast of Atlanta. Both remain prime picking spots for new releases, reissues and gently-used discoveries.
The Great Escape (Bowling Green, Kent., Louisville, Kent. and Nashville, Tenn.)
This chain of record shop and comic book store combos dates back to 1977 and has five locations across three metro areas.
Do yourself a favor and visit the Charlotte Avenue store in Nashville, which has one of the biggest, best-curated and fairest-priced selections of bluegrass vinyl you'll find anywhere. Each location's country LP and 45 section isn't shabby, either.
Vertical House Records (Huntsville, Ala.)
This record shop in a former textile mill offers rustic aesthetics and a staggering selection of vinyl, CDs and cassettes sure to please even the pickiest music lovers. It's one of several reputable record stores in Alabama, along with Oz Records in Tuscaloosa, Renaissance Records in Birmingham and others.
Louisiana Music Factory (New Orleans)
Louisiana Music Factory first opened in 1992 and moved to its current location in the French Quarter in 2014. It's conveniently located for tourists and offers an impressive selection of regional sounds that'll impress Americana connoisseurs.
As is the case with other stores listed here, there's variety at the Louisiana Music Factory beyond local flavor, with new arrivals frequently ranging from limited edition soundtrack reissues to used titles that'll fill holes in your classic rock, hip-hop, reggae, metal, punk, jazz, blues or country collection.
Record & CD Exchange (Little Rock, Ark.)
Arkansas might be the best state in the region for scoring country rarities at estate sales, flea markets and from private record collections. Even reputable indie shops in larger cities like Little Rock seem less picked through by online auction flippers than stores in other states' major markets, creating a supply and demand situation that's in country fans' favor.
Record Exchange (St. Louis)
Record Exchange in St. Louis boasts over 10,000 square feet of music and memorabilia. Patient crate diggers can spend hours in this massive space and leave with an armload of albums without breaking the bank.
Even if they've took in the notably enormous Amoeba Music location in Hollywood (the world's largest independent record store), first-time shoppers will be floored by both the size of Record Exchange and the quality of music found in its bins.
Guestroom Records (Louisville, Kent. and Oklahoma City)
Oklahoma University students Justin Sowers and Travis Searle founded Guestroom Records in 2003 as a door-to-door record delivery service. What started as two college students' side hustle now boasts destination record stores in two different states, with the business expanding in 2013 to Louisville, Kent.
Waterloo (Austin, Texas)
Waterloo regularly appears on roundups of America's best record stores, alongside California chain Amoeba Music's three locations (San Francisco, Los Angeles and Berkeley), Chicago's Reckless Records (which also has three storefronts), Seattle's Sonic Boom Records, Portland's Jackpot Records, Minneapolis' Electric Fetus and multiple vinyl hotspots in New York City.
It belongs on those lists, if only because of its selection of everything from new music to turntables. Waterloo also offers a consistently stacked calendar of in-store performances and other events that bring record collectors through its doors outside of Record Store Day and SXSW programming.
Products featured on Wide Open Country are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
READ MORE: 'This Town Needs a Record Store': Sisters of Sound Connect Their Kansas Community Through Vinyl
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