Vinyl hunting in a city that you are visiting for a short period of time requires good preparation. You need to do a bit of research on each store you’ll find to make sure that, first of all, they are still opened, then, second of all, where they are located and what are their business hours. You’ll also want to know which music style each store specializes. You can then rank them per priority and by doing so, make sure you are not missing out on gems!

I’ve had only 4 days and a half in Chicago, Illinois, in early October of 2018. I was traveling alone, so didn’t need to make any schedule compromise, which is a great advantage when you want to shop a lot. I was also ready to make myself lunches to save time and money (that I could spend on extra records!). A sandwich will last you a few hours but a great vinyl is yours forever!

Another important tip is to try to make yourselves routes by grouping stores in an efficient way. In my Chicago trip, I’ve regrouped the Wicker Park area as one (intense) day of hunting, as Reckless Records, Dusty Groove, Shuga, Wild Prairie and Joyride are all located in the same area. I stayed at the Holiday Jones hotel, by the way, which was also a great location in Wicker Park.

chicago logo

A second day was designed so I would visit Dave’s Records, Gramaphone Records and Laurie’s Planet of Sound, as they are all in the North neighborhood. I had rented a Divvy bike for a whole day ($15, well worth it!) and took advantage of this to stroll up and down by the lake shore where there are beautiful beaches. Plan this trip on a beautiful day and you will not regret it.

Finally, I’ve planned to visit Bob’s Jazz and Blues Mart and Record Breakers on the same day as I knew I’d need to use buses to go in that area. Some folks met at stores and music venues recommended to go all the way up to an adjacent city called Evanston, to check out Squeezebox Books and Music and Vintage Vinyl but these two were too far for me to go to (and also heard they were expensive places – but I did not validate that).

I already own a large collection of albums in all formats and being in the media industry for the last 15 years, many labels do send me advance mp3 for reviews. So, when I’m vinyl hunting, I’m looking mostly for gems from the past., especially from musicians I’ve never heard from. I am specifying this ahead, so you understand my needs as a vinyl hunter, which are not necessarily the same as yours.

So here are my favorite spots to find jazz and reggae used and new vinyl records in Chicago.

eckless records chicago hand logo

RECKLESS RECORDS

1379 N Milwaukee Ave – website

This is a huge and great place! Just like in the 80s, vinyl is king here and the guys at Reckless keep a very wide variety of choice in all genres. It’s great to see that nowadays a record store can be a healthy business after all these miserable years this sector went through.

To give you an idea, it took me a few hours just to go through the jazz section, only from letters A to L! My ears being soared of listening to YouTube to know what I was listening to that I postponed to another day to explore M to Z!

reckless records chicago

Reckless Records – Chicago

Reckless Records is the place I ended up spending the most of my hunting budget, and ended up with a $15 per album average (including taxes), which I find very acceptable considering I chose 9 brand new albums and 12 used ones.

Staff at Reckless is very picky and only keep records that are in great to mint condition. You won’t find any beaten up sleeve in here. A curiosity: all records have been removed from their sleeves. When your choice is made, you go to the counter where staff will pick up the actual plate which is classified in large racks. So even new albums have been unsealed. One great thing the staff at Reckless does which is unique in Chicago and very smart are short reviews. New albums, new bands, imports, special albums each have a few lines describing them, often with personality and sense of humor.

reckless records chicago notes

an example of notes

Although Reckless – and most Chicago record stores – do not provide turntables for customers to listen to potential purchases, they’ve let me hop on their Wi-Fi so I could listen to my pre-selected albums on YouTube. Friendly staff also threw in a few promo items as I came with a big bill, which also is very appreciated.

dusty groove chicago

DUSTY GROOVE

1120 N Ashland Ave – website

Also located in Wicker Park, and just 2 blocks away from the Holiday Jones hotel, Dusty Groove is a very nice record stores. Staff there invested in creating a nice and cozy ambiance with lamps, brick walls, and nice wooden bins. Even extra chairs for the spouse or kids to sit when tired of waiting for you to pick your records!

There too, I was allowed to use their Wi-Fi, and took many hours to go through their massive jazz collection. I unfortunately did not have the time to explore their reggae records. Dusty Groove also have an excellent selection of new and used CD’s at fair price. The audiophile in me sometimes doesn’t hesitate to go with the compact disc when I see that for a couple of extra bucks I can get perfect sound quality vs the same record as a used vinyl. There is a limit to the charisma of the snap-crackle and pop sounds…

dusty groove chicago inside

Dusty Groove – Chicago

Staff at Dusty Groove classifies all their albums (vinyl or CD) per alphabetical order. That is a sign of how involved they are in the quality of their store.

Dusty also did the smart move to lower their t-shirt prices to $8, rather than the usual $15 to $20 we see elsewhere. I took one of theirs rather than Reckless or Delmark Records (that Bob used to own) for that reason.

Dusty Groove has bargain bins in their basement where 45s are 25 cents and LPs, 50 cents, but only found one LP there. I did buy a few 45s that I will use for home deco. What I did find was this amazing metal box that I can use not only to travel back safely with my purchases, but will also use at home to display my Chicago vinyls. Very happy about that!

lauries planet of sound chicago

LAURIE’S PLANET OF SOUND

4639 N Lincoln Ave – website

This is where I found the friendliest staff. Without the Wi-Fi password and no turntables, the gentleman at the counter was nice enough to play me a few seconds of each record I wanted to know a little bit better (remember, I hunt mostly artists I never heard from, which makes it difficult when you can’t hear anything before purchasing). This led to conversation about jazz, about music stores, in which another customer and vinyl fan joined.

I had a great time at Laurie’s and also appreciated the Lincoln Square neighborhood in which they are located, which is called Lincoln Square, and adjacent Ravenswood. There are some nice boutiques, libraries, cafés and restaurants around Laurie’s, which is located further north in Chicago.

lauries planet of sound chicago

Laurie’s Planet of Sound – Chicago

Laurie’s selection is smaller than big places like Reckless or Dusty Groove, but I didn’t have a hard time finding a dozen albums that were interesting, and even a Muddy Waters double LP reissue, that I almost bought just because I was in Chicago (but finally didn’t).

At the end of the day, I’ve ended up with a $13 per record average mostly because I couldn’t wrap my head against not buying a great reggae gem by The Rastafarians that was priced $30 (even with a beaten up sleeve). This record was simply too amazing for me not to pick it up. But this choice led me to abandon 5 or 6 used records that were nicely priced (between $8 and $12) that I would have taken home if the rasta boys hadn’t mess up the plan. Generally, Laurie’s prices were more accessible than all other places, with Wild Prairie.

wild prairie chicago

WILD PRAIRIE

1109 N Western Ave – Facebook page

The latest kids on the block: this store opened only 10 months ago, and is located in the Ukrainian Village, a little bit south east of Wicker Park, and east of the Humboldt Park. Half the store are clothes (more for her than him) and pretty handbags, and half are vinyls. Wild Prairie has a great selection of soul, funk that DJs seem to appreciate. When I was there, there was one DJ dude who was trying on a few LP’s and set great grooves in da place!

wild prairie chicago inside
Wild Prairie is also one of the rare store to offer the use of a turntable so customers can listen to used vinyls before purchase. “As a DJ and record consumer myself, told me co-owner Alex, I hate being disappointed once I’m listening to the album at home.” I couldn’t agree more. I’d even add that I personally purchase more records when I can listen to them than when I can’t (re: my visit at Dave’s, below).

bob blues and jazz mart

BOB’S BLUES AND JAZZ MART

3419 W Irving Park Rd – Facebook page

This place is worth the visit if you care about the people and the stories that inhabit them. Bob Koester is a living legend that went through 70 years of music business career, starting in 1953 when he founded Delmark Records (initially in St. Louis, then moved to Chicago in 1958). This was the label of many Chicago blues greats. Bob is now 86-years old. He sold Delmark last year and kept a record store where he enjoys spending his days, chatting with the rare customers that make the detour (and in my case 3 bus transfers in heavy rain all the way to the Irving Park area) to check out his collections.

bob koester chicago blues delmark records

In the couple of hours I spent in his messy store, he told me about artists he worked with or hired, about the deals they had (Big Bill Broonzy only made 15% royalties on other artists’ recordings of his songs, which isn’t a lot when records were sold 30 cents back in the 50s and 60s! That would make him a few pennies per record sold). Bob also told me about unsung Chicago legend Big Joe Williams who I had learned about the previous day at the Chicago History Museum. Williams didn’t earn the status of other colleagues like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Spann and others that invented the electric Chicago blues style, but was an innovator with his unique 9-string guitar.

bob blues and jazz mart big joe williams

Big Joe Williams’s records – recorded and supervised by Bob Koester himself

Bob told me Williams was a drunk that would appear and disappear often. But in his best days, he would stay all night in Bob’s store with Willie Dixon and jam all night. “I trusted him and left him a key so he could come in whenever he wanted.” On this picture of Bob and myself, we see one of the Big Joe Williams records that Bob produced (zoom in to see his name is right there on the front sleeve!). Buddy Guy, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Otis Rush, Bud Powell, George Lewis and Donald Byrd are a few of the great jazz artists that Bob recorded and signed on the Delmark brand, which became one of the most renowned jazz and blues label in the world. Bob has been inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996.

bob koester and nico pelletier

Bob and me!

One of the records I bought at Bob’s place was a 50s jazz recording of the Chicago-style jazz of the Al Capone years (so the 20s). It’s autographed by the pianist and leader of the band, Don Gibson, a guy Bob knew very well. “He was a great piano teacher as well… I wonder what he’s doing nowadays…”. If you have the time, go say hi to Bob. It’s worth it.

Read more about Bob Koester here (for his history) and here (about him selling Delmark last year).

record breakers chicago

RECORD BREAKERS

2935 N Milwaukee Ave – website

Record Breakers is another great place to find quality music. The store is located north of Logan Square neighborhood, a bit in the middle of nowhere, but easily accessible by bus, on N Milwaukee Avenue. It was a rainy Wednesday afternoon when I got there, and had almost the whole store to myself. I was greeted by very friendly staff with the most adorable dog who almost seemed to enjoy the music played in the store.

record breakers chicago inside

Record Breakers – Chicago

Record Breakers has a very good selection of jazz and some reggae. Very cozy atmosphere, that is vintage and neo-hipster à la fois: the décor is warm, and nicely set. Record Breakers also carry some cool t-shirts (even a Isaac Hayes one!). On top of jazz and reggae, I also found a few very cool artists in the indie pop (Insects vs Robots) and neo-country artists (Amy Lavere) that really blew my mind, and had never had heard of.

shuga records chicago

SHUGA RECORDS

1272 N Milwaukee Ave – website

Located in Wicker Park, Shuga Records is one of the rare stores that offers clients to listen to used records on their turntables. Another great advantage is that Shuga closes late at night: when I got there on Thursday, it was the only record store opened until 10pm. Friendly staff, but not as great jazz records selection than other stores that are (unfortunately for them) pretty close, like Reckless and Dusty Groove.

shuga records inside

Shuga Records – Chicago

This being said, Shuga Records seem to have a pretty wide offer in new albums – which you cannot unwrap and listen, obviously. Jazz and reggae did not seem to be their specialty.

dave's records chicago

DAVE’S RECORDS

2604 N Clark St – website

Dave’s place is somehow legendary in Chicago in the used vinyls stores business as strongly stating “never having cd’s and never will”. Dave’s survived the worst years for vinyls without ever selling a cassette or CD. The store is located in the Park West neighborhood. I personally recommend visiting Chicago’s lake shore all the way up there (on a Divvy bike, per example) if you happen to go there on a sunny day.

The problem with Dave’s Record is the service. I had the very bad impression I was annoying the employee (or owner?) with my few initial questions. There were no turntables, no wifi, so this made very difficult the music exploration I hoped to do in this store. Although I had spotted 3 or 4 records that seemed interesting, especially from the reggae bin, I didn’t buy them, as I couldn’t know if they were any good.

dave's records chicago inside

Dave’s Records – Chicago

Dave’s Records has a very nice collection of vinyl box sets, if you’re into these types of collection. This was the store that disappointed me the most in Chicago, because I had high expectations due to their reputation and to the bad service I got there. In a city with such great offer in vinyl record stores as Chicago has, clients might choose other places.

CHICAGO’S VINYL SCENE IS HEALTHY!

Chicagoans are lucky: they have many vinyl record stores to go to. Among them, here are a few other addresses that you might want to check out. I could not visit neither Gramaphone Records (which is near Dave’s Records) nor Joyride (kind of in between Dusty Groove and Wild Prairie) as they were both closed when I arrived on location.

gramaphone records chicago

I did not visit Bucket O’Blood Books and Records in Avondale neighborhood as it seemed specialized in other genres of music (and books) that don’t interest me as much.

As mentioned before, I’ve heard great things about both Squeezebox Books and Music and Vintage Vinyl, but Evanston was too far north from where I was staying and from all the other record stores for me to take the time to go there.

Chicago is definitely a city for great vinyl records shopping! I had a great time here and was very happy to see the record business in such great shape, after years – if not decades – of hard times.

chicago vinyl records

A few records I was about to listen to…

All photos by Nico Pelletier for RREVERB, all rights reserved.

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About The Author

Nicolas Pelletier

Mélomane invétéré plongeant dans tous les genres et époques, Nicolas Pelletier a publié 6 000 critiques de disques et concerts depuis 1991, dont 1100 chez emoragei magazine et 600 sur enMusique.ca, dont il a également été le rédacteur en chef de 2009 à 2014. Il publie "Les perles rares et grands crus de la musique" en 2013, lance le site RREVERB en 2014, et devient stratège numérique des radios de Bell Média en 2015, participant au lancement de la marque iHeartRadio au Canada en 2016. Il dirige maintenant la stratégie numérique d'ICI Musique, la radio musicale de Radio-Canada.