Downloading music is great. The ability to access almost any record—no matter how obscure—and possess it within an instant is an obvious luxury. Still, and not to sound like a blindly nostalgic old-timer, where’s the heart?
Well, thankfully, it exists. Following familiar old ventricles like Lake Street, Lyndale Avenue, and Hennepin Avenue can lead any lover of the increasingly rare, but still relevant, smallish independent record stores straight to the sweet, sweet aorta—er, shops.
The following are the best Minneapolis has to offer in terms of community-minded, diversely stocked and oftentimes vinyl-centric record shops.
1300 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
Cheapo is equal parts theme park and shop for music buffs. The sprawling warehouse’s goods can entice visitors for hours and for good cause. The wooden bins donning Cheapo’s trademark white/red color scheme spread on for hundreds of feet with new and used CDs. Local music is prominently featured and is flanked by DVDs, accessories and merchandise. The upstairs barn-like appeal can be overwhelmingly gigantic, but the smaller basement boasts the cities’ most complete selection of vinyl. It’d be easy to break out the pretentious hipster card and condemn Cheapo’s chain status, but, as a clerk, who simply goes by Chapin, puts it, nowhere can you get so much good stuff at a decent price.
2000 Fourth Ave. S., Minneapolis
Clerk David Campbell smirks as he states the obvious: “I have a pretty cool job.” Indeed, Campbell does. The Electric Fetus is, arguably, Minneapolis’s most beloved music shop. And, frankly, it’s not hard to see why. Equal parts unique toy/jewelry/clothing/pot accessories and music, The Fetus has been a staple since the late 60s—a pretty good era to start a record shop. Today, there’s obviously been some mainstreaming and modernizing with newish finished wood floors and a boutique-ish wing of merchandise, but the focus on music remains. A perfect intermediate size that combines Cheapo’s selection with the smaller guy’s charms, the Electric Fetus’s bins of new/used CDs also allure both the chains’ casual fans and the true indie purists.
2557 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Formally known as Oar Folkjokeopus, Treehouse was rebranded with its current name nine years ago, but the history remains. From the 70s through the 80s, Treehouse was the hub of the burgeoning Minneapolis punk scene and—famously—local heroes the Replacements made the shop their hangout. Today, Treehouse calls itself “The World’s Last Record Store” and, gauging from the veneer, hasn’t aged a bit. Still specializing in underground and local music, clerk Emily Moore says the shop remains popular.
“Everyone comes in, from 13-year-old kids with their dads to 85-year-old guys finding their treasured LPs.”
2411 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis
There’s nothing frilly about Fifth Element. A store for the hip-hop obsessed, the stripped, minimalistic shop comprises one lengthy vinyl bin, one equally full of CDs, plenty of t-shirts, and a tiny performance stage speckled with DJ equipment in the corner. Manager Felipe Cuavhtli, though, says his favorite part of Fifth Element is the community vibe. Owned by local powerhouse label Rhymesayers Entertainment , the shop serves as a meeting place and networking hub for anyone interested in a thriving Minneapolis hip-hop scene.
4304 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis
Impossibly small and located not within the hipness of Uptown but, rather, in a residential neighborhood, it seems like Roadrunner would struggle to survive. That’s before you talk to veteran music buff and shopkeeper Dan Rein. “A lot of young people come in and buy vinyl,” Rein said. “It’s great because eventually we’ll [older generations] all die off.” It’s clear via Roadrunner’s barred windows, vintage metal roof and wall of “prized” vinyl they cater to music purists. And that just may be what keeps them afloat.
407 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
Collectively owned by around 30 folks, Extreme Noise is unabashedly punk rock. Dark, narrow and absolutely brimming with punk magazines, buttons, shirts, records and CDs, the shop exudes D.I.Y. punk mentality—even down to the handwritten tags found on the records explaining just how cool they are. Extreme Noise’s niche is clear, but there’s still some diversity in the clientele, explains clerk Shivaun Watchorn. “It’s united around punk and hardcore, but young crusty kids come in and old guys do, too.”
3318 East Lake St.
3 W. 15th St.
Know Name Records
6009 Portland Ave. S.