Although my tenure as a Minneapolitan spans a mere six years, I’ve made the most of my time by trying to become intertwined with the music that soundtracks the lives of local citizens. One of the most leisurely and enjoyable ways I’ve accomplished this is by searching for and collecting vinyl. I am an amateur collector, but I’ve managed to experience a great deal of what the Twin Cities have to offer. Here are some shops that are a “must-visit” as a starter guide to Minnesota vinyl collecting.
Anyone that even slightly considers themselves punk must take a trip to Extreme Noise. The small shop is a sanctuary for leather clad customers looking for a unique piece of wax. Although I’ve always felt a bit intimidated shopping there, as I am not well versed in punk tradition, it’s a store with deep local roots and a boastable selection of genre-specific music, shirts, patches, zines, and hair dye (for real).
Located on Lake Street, just east enough not to be consider Uptown, and just south enough to scare off any Downtown yuppies, the volunteer-driven Extreme Noise caters to its customers perfectly. The bare bones shop, which has little room for much besides vinyl and black T-shirts, lets it’s streetfront overhead sign do all the talking; it simply reads, “Extreme Noise. Punk Rock.”
The Electric Fetus is top of mind when thinking about Minnesota record stores. With stores in Minneapolis, Duluth, and formerly St. Cloud (RIP), the reach of this establishment stretches well beyond the metro, the state, and apparently the country. Fans of the store got a surprise when Ringo Starr wore an Electric Fetus T-shirt to the Grammys in 2010, a proud, bragable moment for any patron.
“The Fetus” is an incredibly welcoming environment, and truly has something for everyone. Besides an ocean of records and CDs, there are so many other great gifts, clothes, posters, knick knacks, and even audio equipment to shop. If ever looking for a gift for a quirky aunt or a card for a friend, this is the place.
Music wise, no one else can touch their selection of newly released records. Promoting new music gives the Electric Fetus cause to host in-store performances from bands touring their new albums. These can range from small, local groups that play during their “garage sale” events, to special performances featuring groups like Polica, LOW, and Taking Back Sunday. Like all of the stores on this list, one of the best things about the Electric Fetus is the support it gives to great (especially local) music.
Rounding out the list is another Uptown record store specializing in hip-hop. Much like Extreme Noise, the specificity of this store is what makes it so special. Fifth Element’s relationship with Rhymesayers Records (they are the official Rhymesayers online and retail store) makes them a one stop shop for anyone looking for Minnesota hip-hop music, apparel, or knowledge. Conveniently located on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown, Fifth Element is the most modern, polished store on the list, feeling more upscale than most shops. You will often find DJs spinning records throughout the day as you shop, and has other large shows throughout the year, including a Record Store Day bash. Established in 1999, their dedication to Minnesota hip-hop is clearly illustrated in their websites holiday calendar, which shows the store as closed on “Soundset Sunday” every summer. Whether you’re dripping with swagger, or have no street cred to your name, you’ll be welcome here to support Minnesota hip-hop and search for some great records.
Treehouse resides on an ever changing stretch of Minneapolis street called Lyndale Avenue. While flashy new apartments and chic restaurants and breweries continue popping up a few blocks south, Treehouse stands strong as a symbol of the old Uptown. Kitty corner from the infamous CC Club, their leaf-green sign welcomes you into an oasis of mainly used vinyl and CDs. Originally opening as Oar Folkjokeopus in 1972, the self-proclaimed “best source of vinyl in the state” went through several names through the years before the Treehouse as we know it took form in 2001.
One of the great things about record stores is the interesting non-audio odds and ends you find for sale. Besides their excellent records, Treehouse also has a wonderfully colorful selection of vintage music magazines for readers to purchase. Magazines and vinyl records age in a similar way, where the faded covers of the past often now reek with absurdity, despite the trends of the time. While the covers inside may fade, this store remains as brilliant as ever, as a must-stop location for vinyl lovers.
Football fans were likely surprised while watching the 2016 Superbowl, when a commercial aired during the big game for Treehouse records, featuring none other than Minnesota’s own Fancy Ray. Although the ad was a disguise for an assumably delicious new Taco Bell dish, the whole thing was shot inside the record store, and featured Fancy Ray boasting the stores fine selection. This is just another reason Treehouse lives on as one of the best in the Twin Cities.
An incredibly cozy yet spacious store lies near the Mississippi River on Lake Street. Hymies has a very wholesome feeling, specifically due to their love of unique local music. This is most explicitly shown during their annual Record Store Day block party, which is always blown out with two stages, food/beer vendors, arts and crafts sales, and even bins of FREE records. By closing off 39th Ave, and taking advantage of neighboring parking lots, Hymies puts on a party not to be missed. Inside features a stage of mainly acoustic music, while outside is known to get a bit louder, featuring local groups like What Tyrants and Black Diet in years past. When you visit, be sure to say hello to the shop dog, Irene, as you shop. She’s just one of their many excellent customer service representatives.
Dead Media is a newer store compared to others on the list, and operates in a slightly different capacity, as it is volunteer driven, which gives it a unique family-style feeling. In addition to the many stacks of records that adorn the small space, Dead Media’s strength lies in their bounty of tapes. A growing resurgence in the Twin Cities, cassette tapes are making their way back into shops, allowing fans another way to support local music.
This hole-in-the-wall shop runs by the beat of their own drum, and what it lacks in space and quantity of records, it makes up for with personality and gumption. It’s impossible to walk into Dead Media without striking up a conversation with one of the lovely workers about an obscure record they just put out for sale, or weird Minneapolis music facts. Dead Media definitely has ambition, as they host plenty of in-store performances of unknown touring acts and local talent alike, despite their very tiny performance space. It’s like going to a show in a dorm room, and it’s fantastic.
Cheapo is well known around the cities as a mega record store of sorts. With three locations around the metro, Cheapo is conveniently accessible to anyone looking to expand their collection. The bold red sign out front makes a statement that “you can find what you need, but will likely find much more.” Their Uptown location recently moved to Nicollet Avenue, to a similarly large location with a warehouse-type layout. This is most definitely a music-first store, with bins upon bins to inspect.
Having locations in Blaine and St. Paul allows both urban and suburban record hunters a chance to get their fix. I could easily write a second article specifically about record stores outside of the metro area. Stores like Down In The Valley, in Golden Valley, can often provide similarly great music, but in a convenient stripmall location. These stores are not to be ignored, and can sometimes hide gems of not only records, but personality.