Updated: Dec 26, 2022
Originally published in Stereo Embers Magazine
For some, Portland Oregon is just too weird.
Weird houses. Weird lifestyle choices. Weird hipsters wearing weird wooly hats. Weird weather. Weird doughnuts. Weird food being served out of weird tiny food trucks.
For others though, all of the above reasons make Portland literally the land of milk and honey.
Look, it’s a quirky place, no doubt. But as someone who loves rain and whose natural habitat is split equally between breweries and record stores, Portland is basically nirvana.
I freakin’ love a record store—passionately and deeply and in ways I shouldn’t freely admit to.
I love the vibes, the sights, the smells, the feeling of the albums on my fingers as I flip through the bins; even the judgmental checkout guy wearing a Smiths shirt scoffing at my selections.
I’m in DEEP.
For an audiophile like myself, Portland offers a landscape of record store options comparable to all the other great vinyl cities around the world. Truly, it’s impressive.
Before I divulge my (weekly) rotation of favorite shops, let me quickly provide the tiniest bit of context for the type of record collector I am. This is only relevant due to my preferred shop rotation being highly indicative of these biases and I’d like to head off all of the feedback on why my roster doesn’t include one or another of the multitude of other remarkable shops in town (there are so many good ones, it’s crazy).
*I am a FIEND for late 80’s/early 90’s punk, alternative rock and hip-hop. ALL OF IT. (The deepest of ironies of course being that so much of that music was not widely being pressed to vinyl at the time). I’m super serious about this period. In fact, Failure’s Fantastic Planet is currently spinning with De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising to follow.
* I am not precious about my records—they are meant to be played. I’m not often moved by unique pressings or limited editions. I rarely even care about first pressings (NM or otherwise) and couldn’t give a toss about the variations of releases from country to country.
*I just want a good, clean copy that sounds killer on my turntable.
With that in mind, here now, in no particular order – my roster of favorite Portland record shops:
What began as a hugely successful YouTube channel for vinyl lovers then became a record label that then became a storefront. Too Many Records f’n’ rules. You’ll find mostly used records in the bins and a sweet selection of “holy grails” on the walls. This spot is constantly being re-stocked with goodies, so it’s important to consistently check-in on what’s cookin’ over there. There’s a real community vibe going on at this shop—patrons are often seen engaged in conversation or just hanging out. Super fun, great owner, even better wax.
Vinyl + Beer = excellent business plan
This well-curated gem of a shop is crushing it on both fronts. As far a beer goes, they pour a mix of both established and local brews and invite you to take a seat in their comfy bar area or take your beer for a dig through their crates. You can even grab some roadies from their bottle shop. Featuring an excellent balance between old and new vinyl, The Record Pub does a really nice job of having just the right amount of product on the floor at any one time. In my humblest of opinions, there needs to be enough inventory for a good solid dig, but not too much that the crates themselves are too tightly packed, making it difficult to peruse. The Record Pub is a great new Portland hang—swing by and you’ll immediately see why it so easily made its way into my rotation.
This shop is always an excellent change of pace. It’s super mellow, comfortable and extremely well-curated. The stock heavily skews used and they always seem to have something I’ve been looking everywhere else for. It’s uncanny, actually! They have an excellent “grail wall” and excel at fairly pricing their wax. They have a killer section of 45s, too. For serious collectors, I can imagine this spot being a real haven for rare finds.
Nothing shocking here, right?! It’s pretty much the “gold standard” for independent record shops…well, nationally. Its stellar reputation and renown continues to be well-deserved. When on tour (in the days before I moved to Portland), Music Millennium was always a planned/necessary stop on the itinerary (well, there and Voodoo Doughnuts). For me, this spot in particular is about new releases. More often than not, if an album was just released on vinyl, they’ve got it in their racks on Friday morning. Music Millennium is hallowed ground in the same way Seattle has Easy Street, LA/San Francisco have Amoeba and London has Rough Trade East. Oh, you can grab a beer there too if that’s your thing.
Another classic. This stalwart of Portland vinyl slingers continues to deliver visit after visit. It’s yet another superbly well-curated shop as far as both new and used inventory goes. You’ll also be tempted into a $20 band t-shirt, so just factor that into your budget. For me, the Punk section is reason enough to swing by. Hot damn, do they do a great job keeping things fresh in this shop. Well worth the trip downtown. A true classic.
There you have it! My weekly rotation is complete. If vinyl is your jam, Portland has got your wax, folks. Have fun spinnin’ that black circle!
Shawn Brown is a Portland OR based singer-songwriter, scribbler, vinyl geek and sushiritto enthusiast. His recently released EP ‘The Rain Parade’ is available to stream worldwide and on limited-edition vinyl. www.shawnbrownmusic.com