|The Groove Merchant|
687 Haight St. (S.F.)
|Hands-down, the best store on the whole West Coast for rare funk, soul and jazz, the Groove Merchant has been a Left Coast fixture since 1990, making it one of the oldest specialty stores for rare groove in the country (at least five years older, for example, than NY's Sound Library and A-1). Their selection is impeccable, especially in funk, soul, jazz and Latin. Their hip-hop collection is growing, though its quality fluctuates more wildly than other stores who focus on hip-hop specifically. It's an especially good store to learn information about rare soundtracks, European jazz and library records. The choicest records either are on the wall displays (like Parliament's original "Osmium" recently) or behind the desk (you gotta ask for 'em).
Proprieter "Cool" Chris Veltri lives up to his namesake as one of the most amiable record sellers you'll ever meet and he's a warehouse of knowledge on all things funky. The store also stocks new hip-hop, trip-hop, and electronica plus reissues of funk classics and the like. Trades are always welcome and Veltri is quite generous by giving matching value on trades (which is nearly unheard of in the business). The catch is that Veltri won't buy your bullsh*t and I've seen him turn down "good" records for trade that would ordinarily . Currently, the Groove Merchant does not carry any stock online; mail order possible.
Selection:For rare groove - outstanding. For hip-hop - decent.
Price: High. Expect to pay top dollar to get top dollar records - this is NOT a bargain basement.
|Open Mind Music
342 Divisadero (S.F.)
open 7 days/week
|I only just started going here for the past month, and ironically, I discovered the store through their eBay sales rather than knowing about them beforehand. Duh... Anyways, they're a nice little specialty store - very strong on rock, with an impressive and growing hip-hop collection and good stuff in soul and jazz too. I haven't found any dollar bin type bargains, but I have bought some very good rare groove records there for much less than I'd expect to pay elsewhere. On the flipside, they will also price some collectibles very high - like most places, it's a crap shoot. The store is also very popular with DJs as they stock hundreds of used dance and hip-hop singles, many of which are $5 or less. You'll find their best stuff on the walls, and it's not necessarily their most expensive - I saw used copies of KRS-One's "Sound of the Police" and Pete Rock's "I Got a Love" for less than $10 each recently. there's also a bin of rare hip-hop that sits on the counter. I'd also make sure to check their "new arrivals" section first (but that's pretty basic diggin' advice for any store).
I don't know all the proprieters, but I've just met Kevin who handles the hip-hop stuff. Good taste in music and he charges more than fair prices for the better product. Keep in mind though that the choicest records often will go straight to eBay rather than the store. I know trades are accepted, but I've never traded there personally so I don't know what kind of prices you'll get. Stock is sold online at eBay; mail order accepted.
Selection:: For rare groove - decent. For hip-hop - decent to very good.
Price: Fair though some items will be expensive as per their worth.
Funky Riddms Records
2328 Bowditch (at Durant) (Berkeley)
open Tues-Sun, closed Mondays
|The store is brand spanking new - located in a rather prime piece of real estate by UC Berkeley. It specializes in new and rare hip-hop, funk and reggae (plus Latin) though it's main strength will likely be in hip-hop. I ran through on opening day and had quite an experience - there were no out and out steals, but it was very, very reasonable. High end prices included $24 for a mint copy of Souls of Mischief's "Never No More" but on the other end, I picked up UTD's "My Kung Fu" for a five spot, plus some rare funk for around $10. Other goodies that walked out the door that I saw - Saafir's "Battle Drill" for a hair under $20, an original E-Rule "Listen Up" for $15, and two copies of PE's "It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back", both for less than $12.
The store is run by Gabe (aka DJ Riddm), who's been a big collector in the area for the last 10 years. I'm used to seeing him at record store and shows and now he's running his own spot. Because of that, he's looking for a lot of his records to walk through the door in trades/sales so for those Bay Area cats tired of getting taken at low Amoeba/Rasputin prices, Funky Riddms is a good place to consider taking your wares. No stock is currently online and there are no plans to do so (at least not yet). Mail order isn't not available either and there are no plans to do so.
Selection:For hip-hop excellent. For soul and jazz: decent, but the stock is small.
Price: Very, very good. There are some high-end items, but most of it is priced below eBay standards if you know what I mean.
4470 Telegraph (Oakland)
open 7 days/week
|Groove Yard's speciality is jazz with a lesser focus on soul. Not at all good for most other genres, especially rock and hip-hop. But if you're searching for good jazz and soul records, Groove Yard can fit your bill. It's a small shop so stock is sporadic and good product usually comes in spurts rather than one a week-to-week consistent basis. Timing is everything at most stores, but Groove Yard especially - I've had days where the selection was amazing and other times when it was dead.
Rick runs the store and is friendly and helpful though he's not a rare groove expert (smart enough to know what to price records though but not a beat head by any means). The nice thing about the store is that it's small enough where you can comb through their "new arrivals" section in several minutes and take off if you find nothing. Trades are welcomed, but it's a standard 50% arrangement and Rick is very specific on wanting records in pristine quality. No stock online; mail order unknown.
Selection:: For soul and jazz: decent to very good. For hip-hop: don't bother.
Price: Tends to be on the higher end than other stores, but some surprises can be found.
2401 Channing (Berkeley)
510 848 0846
open 7 days/week
|In Berkeley, Rasputin's and Amoeba face off against one another within one block of one another and Amoeba has always had the better reputation. Frankly, I can see why - they seem to have a more consistent and organized stock, the staff are far friendlier and more knowledgable and the space is more inviting. But when it comes to record digging, Amoeba just doesn't yield the kind of cool records that it did in its early years. Maybe it's because it's become so popular that everybody and their mother shops there, but whatever the case, I can't even remember the last time I found something of note there, especially in hip-hop.
Whereas, Rasputin's can be a great price to find good records for really great prices - it's all a matter of timing, but if you're ever there when new arrivals are still stacked in bins on the floor, hit those immediately. I've found scads of cool, underpriced goodies there over the years. You're probably not as likely to find an ultra-rare collectible, but you are likely to find good rock, soul and jazz records at bargain prices plus an occassional hip-hop gem. It takes more work and more patience than the specialty shops because of the size but a good hour will ususally yield a decent armful of records if you pop in on the right day. Trades, of course, are welcome since they depend on people selling their records to stack their stock. However, I'd recommend bringing in your cheap promos - not your heavy items - you're not as likely to get the kind of money or trade credit you'd want here vs. other stores with more knowledgable staff. No stock online; mail order unlikely.
Selection: Anywhere from passable to very good but usually in the "decent" range. Price: Excellent - it's rare that you'll pay over $10 for most items.
9 E. Blithedale Ave. (Mill Valley)
open 7 days/week
|This is one of those great used record stores - independently run, with tons of personality, and equally important, tons of records. Getting there can be a bit of a pain since you have to drive deep into downtown Mill Valley - usually, a good 40 minute drive from S.F. even though the city isn't very far from S.F. at all. But it's worth at least a monthly trip, if not weekly if you're really hardcore. John Goddard, who's run the shop for years, keeps a constant parade of new used arrivals coming through, all set on the floor by his counter. Nice guy, will help you find whatever you're looking for. The arrangement of the store is fairly straightforward but the sheer amount of vinyl can make it intimdating to navigate. The most confusing part though is that he has an "Oldies" section which is a mix of rock and soul pre-1970. This is in addition to very large, separate rock and soul sections. So, for example, if you're looking for an Ike and Tina Turner LP, you'd actually go to "Oldies" and not "Soul". Make sense? Not to me either. That being said, if you're patient enough, you're bound to find something here. It's not a speciality store but they also don't take everything under the sun. Be sure to check out the 45 room - I know there's been some great sides pulled out of there and Goddard puts out new stock on a consistent basis. Just be sure to bring your patience. And cash. Village Music does NOT accept credit cards.
Selection: Anywhere from passable to very good but usually in the "decent" range. Good for rock, soul and jazz. 45s too. Not great for hip-hop at all. Price: Good but not outstanding. Low-end for most LPs will be around $5 but there's definitely more expensive prices sprinkled throughout.
6095 Claremont Ave.
Oakland, CA 94618
|Buyers: Jon Manousos, Harvey
New and Used
Records, Tapes, CDs
Rock, Jazz, Classical, Soul, Funk, Reggae
always new stock
|Amoeba (Berkeley, S.F.), Berigan's (Oakland), DBA Brown (Berkeley), Down Home Music (El Cerrito), Jazz Quarter (S.F.)||Amoeba is huge, has tons of music and is a great place to buy CDs. Not a great place to dig though you might get lucky on a really, really, really good day. And if you're really patient. But personally, I just don't think either store is great for a lot of rare groove stuff anymore. It'd help if they enlarged their "new arrivals" section but often, new used stock gets put out too quickly and forces you to dig through hundreds of stacks rather than a handful of bins. If you're in S.F. talk to Doc Fu about hip-hop, or look up at the wall for their best bits. If you're in Berkeley, talk to either Big Serg or Adam (aka Doseone) about hip-hop. Neither store has any real rare groove experts.
Berigan's and Jazz Quarter are both jazz specialty stores, but mostly in vintage, collectible jazz rather than funkier, rare groove material. If you're a big jazz aficianado, then it's worth dropping by - but for beat diggers and sample hounds, you'll likely to leave disappointed.
Much the same can be said of those other small, speciality vinyl shops in the East Bay: DBA Brown and Down Home Music - they cater more towards middle-aged collectors and audiophiles than the digging crowd.
Again, all of the stores above are probably worth visiting at least once, but don't count on making any of them regular stops.
The Record Man
1322 El Camino Real (Redwood City)
Open 7 days a week, check WWW site for hours.
|Everything you've heard is true - immense stock, but the worst pricing I've ever seen. It's not just that it's expensive (which it is) but nothing is priced - everything is done by hand, either using a record guide book or else sheer intuition. That's not to say that you may not walk out with a real steal, but it'd be more like a $40 for $15 rather than a $50 for $5. Don't expect to pay less than $10-15 for anything that even looks decent (even if it sounds like crap). One other small beef - the records are organized in shelves. Great for space efficiency - tough to flip through. Personally, I wouldn't choose to shop here much at all. It's an exercise in frustration. No stock online, but they accept mail-order wantlists.
Selection: Muscially, this is not good for hip-hop - just older music and they have an extensive collection of jazz especially (their funk/soul section seems to be lacking in more independent label items). Good for random stuff like sound effects LPs and weird audiophile items.