i was almost 17 when I finally passed my driving test, and there was reason for celebration. We’d hit the town Friday night, Eric and I, in a lipstick red Mercury Topaz. But we didn’t have girls to take out, we were too young to even get into the under-21 dance clubs.

We went instead to Desirable Discs, a thriving independent record store in the metro-Detroit area with three locations. We went to the first, drove twenty minutes to the next. Blew some money on a Deftones t-shirt and a Braid split. It was 1998. Such were the times.

Desirable Discs closed its final location several years ago with little fanfare. The loss wasn’t great—Detroit has numerous record shops, and in recent years my taste had evolved. But the entire experience seems surreal now; 16, Eric, Desirable Discs. It’ll appear moreso to legions of 16 year-olds-to-be. Independent record shops aren’t yet extinct, but they’re increasingly rare, pushed out by a downtick in the industry, an uptick in downloads, and pricing strategies unavailable to niche market record providers.

The over-indulgent, under-funded music fans of America (and if you’re reading this, welcome to the club) grew up in these shops. We have some of our best moments there, moments not always directly related to record buying. Below, Stylus pays tribute to some of our favorite shops. Many of these stores are thriving, and we’re grateful. Some have moved on. Here’s our five-part guide to the best of what’s out there, the little communities that have sold us our lives, $13 at a time.

[Andrew Gaerig]

Part I: East
Part II: South
Part III: Midwest
Part IV: West
Part V: International

600A North Lamar
Austin, TX 78703

About: A well-oiled indie machine, Waterloo looms large over Austin, effectively blocking corporate chains within a twenty-mile radius of its Sixth Street location.

Specialty: Variety. Waterloo features a decent cross-section of most any genre operant today and is the perfect place to start branching out into new musical territory. The staff is friendly, and the classic works of house/funk/noise/free jazz/world music can usually be found.

What They’re Missing: Jack of all trades, master of none. Subgenre zealots will dislike Waterloo’s style, but given the store’s palatial size and high-dollar location, it simply can’t afford to exclude demographics.

Why We Love It: Waterloo’s the musical epicenter of Austin, and one of our most prominent businesses. It sets the tone for an eclectic, laid-back city.

[Bryan Berge]

3509 Montrose
Houston, TX 77006

About: Houston's largest independent record store chain, with nine locations.

Specialty: Comprehensive independent/major label CD/DVD selection, with some locations dedicated to surf/skate gear.

What They're Missing: Not much. Any store that, at one time, carried the entire Volume and Trance Europe Express series deserves props.

Why We Love It: I can only speak as to the Montrose branch, which has changed since I frequented its previous location. Now you have to fight your way past surf/skate gear to get to the music, and evidently now there's also a coffee house on the premises. But the selection is still huge, with decent prices. Once I came across an ultra-rare Future Sound of London release there at the same time as someone else. We had a brief confrontation, but I lost. Before shopping there, be sure to print out coupons from the website.

[Cosmo Lee]

End of an Ear
2209 South First Street
Austin, TX 78704

About: Rising from the ashes of the mighty Thirty Three Degrees, End of an Ear has staked a plot in the sweetest stretch of South Firs—a street rapidly replacing Congress as Austin’s symbolic center.

Specialty: The psych and experimental sections slay local competitors. Krautrock fans in particular will be thrilled by the bounty of Cluster, Amon Duul, Ash Ra Tempel, and the like. Noise and industrial, amazingly enough, are equally billed with the tastefully picked rock sections.

What They’re Missing: The staff plays it safe with the electronic section, sticking mainly to the Warps and Kompakts of the world, and the vinyl could be filled in a bit.

Why We Love It: End of an Ear supports Austin, showcasing local visual artists and hosting a full calendar of in-stores, ranging from absurdo-pop to dead-serious eggheads. There’s nothing like cruising the stacks near the keg, pulsing to the drone of a local unknown.

[Bryan Berge]

197 E Clayton St.
Athens, GA 30601

About: The first used CD store of its kind to open in the Southeast, Wuxtry sits dead center in the downtown area of America's definitive college music town. A short walk from UGA's Arches and agonizingly close to a Wachovia ATM machine, students and town folk alike can blow through a week's budget on Elephant 6 rarities and then head upstairs to Bizarro Wuxtry, the infinitely jaw-dropping clearinghouse of pop culture detritus, to blow an entire month's on Yo! MTV Raps trading cards.

Specialty: Athens' biggest and most diverse collection of used CD's and vinyl, it caters to the cash-strapped undergrads and the most discerning tastemakers in town. Plus, Jeff Mangum probably shopped here.

What They're Missing: Though their back collections are impressive, if you want the latest major/indie release when you roll out of bed on a Tuesday, you're probably be better off going to Best Buy.

Why We Love It: Some will chalk it up to southern hospitality, but Wuxtry does its part every day to combat the ill reputation High Fidelity to the record store clerks of the world. Doesn't matter if you're buying Spiderland, Heavier Things, or anything else not by the band the dude at the counter is currently in. He's just happy as fuck that you went to Wuxtry.

[Ian Cohen]

Full Moon Records
1653 McLendon Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30307

About: Nestled within a neighborhood strip, Full Moon is a paragon of organization with every cubic centimeter of space utilized to dizzying effect. CDs are thankfully an afterthought, as the counter is the only site designated to a decent selection of used and new discs. Vinyl, on the other hand, is king, lovingly alphabetized and cradled in crates that seemingly never age.

Specialty: Extraordinary attention is given to rock’s lesser knowns—and that extends to all genres. Captain Beyond, Twink, Randy Holden, and Bobby Callender are as readily available as are The No-Neck Blues Band and local misfits such as The Rattler, Bon Vivants, Black Lips, and Deerhunter. Mainstays are also given their due, as AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Grateful Dead, and MC5 LPs never run dry.

What They’re Missing: Stock reflects the interests of the owner, which fails to affect me as we share tastes. White belts searching out the Arcade Fire or Sufjan Stevens will have to look elsewhere.

Why We Love It: The “second story” dollar bin has provided broke schmucks like yours truly with the essentials—and at an opportune time. Before “post-rock” could gum me with its poisonous molars, I landed ZZ Top’s Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, and Duguello in one fell swoop for $1 each. There’s nearly always some choice jazz hidden amongst the Lawrence Welk and Barbara Streisand; I can thank Full Moon for playable copies of Coltrane’s Ole and Ornette’s The Shape of Things to Come.

[Stewart Voegtlin]

Check back each day for another region of the United States and, on Friday, for international record stores…

By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-09-19
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