Rough Trade East – London, UK
Rough Trade is a success story for record stores in the 21st century, a shop that shows you can make a go of selling actual physical records so long as you know your niche and your audience. The original Rough Trade is in west London, but it’s their flagship store in Brick Lane — opened in 2007 amongst dire predictions about the death of records and the music industry in general — on the other side of the city that’s a particularly pretty piece of architecture, all glass and open space.
The Thing – Brooklyn, NY
Beauty is a subjective thing, of course, and there’s just as much ramshackle appeal in the dusty crates of Greenpoint icon The Thing as there is in the graceful space of Rough Trade. This place is the archetypal record geek’s paradise, a maze of unlabeled vinyl that has some strange internal logic that makes no sense to anyone who doesn’t work there.
Nova Audio – Mumbai, India
Mumbai is a pretty great city for record shopping — the bustling warrens of Chor Bazaar and the host of street stalls in the city’s Fort district are home to all sorts of esoteric vinyl, and occasionally you’ll stumble across something completely amazing — but you’d rarely describe its record shops as “beautiful.” A notable exception, however, is Nova Audio, where proprietor Sushil Anand sells a variety of LPs and will also clean your old vinyl for you if you ask him nicely.
Tower Records – Tokyo, Japan
A throwback to the days when big record stores ruled the retail roost, the Japanese arm of Tower Records survived the great Tower meltdown of the 2000s and remains Tokyo’s biggest and swankiest place to buy music. Perhaps one day there’ll be a reason for megastores like this to exist again; for now, it’s interesting to visit and step back into the 1990s.
Tsutaya – Daikanyama, Tokyo, Japan
In the 21st century, though, if there’s a big architectural budget to be spent, it’s most likely to be spent by shops like Tsutaya, which follows the Borders model of selling music, books, magazines, DVDs, etc. under one roof. This beautiful store in Tokyo’s Daikanyama district was designed by architects Klein Dytham and is apparently tailored for over-50 “premier age” customers (which probably makes sense, since they’re the only ones buying physical media anymore.)
Spacehall – Berlin, Germany
Or, in fairness, that’s not entirely true — if there’s one demographic who can be counted on to continue investing in vinyl, it’s DJs. And which city in the world has the highest concentration of erudite DJs per capita? Why, Berlin, of course — the city’s electronic music mecca Spacehall is four floors of vinyl that encompasses pretty much every genre you can think of, all housed in a space that’s as coolly elegant as you’d expect.
Batucada Records – Oslo, Norway
To be honest, we’re not entirely sure whether this place still exists, but its graceful design and sense of space definitely warrants a place on this list. Its designer describes it as “a conceptual record store… where the customer can take their time and be offered a holistic sense, not just records.”
Euclid Records – New Orleans, LA
What were we saying a while back about beauty being in the eye of the beholder? Depending on your tolerance for hot pink, Euclid will be either a thing of brazen charm or one hell of an eyesore… but, either way, it’s an iconic, distinctive exterior and one that you’re not going to miss on a trip to the Bayou.
Mazeeka Samir Fouad – Cairo, Egypt
One of our few regrets from our Flavorwire expedition to Egypt last year is that we didn’t get the chance to visit this venerable Cairo institution, wherein one can find all manner of rare Arabic vinyl and other exotic treasures. (We’re guessing that Awesome Tapes from Africa would lose their collective shit here.)
Amoeba Records – Los Angeles, CA
And finally, what could be more beautiful than the biggest damn record store you’ve ever seen? No trip to the West Coast is complete without a visit to Amoeba, a shop that seems to prove that rumors of the music industry’s demise have been highly exaggerated. For now, at least.