10 best Twin Cities record stores

Top vinyl shops dish on their rarest records.

Top vinyl shops dish on their rarest records.

You've heard it one million times before — the Twin Cities has great record stores.

There are longstanding icons like Treehouse and the Electric Fetus that even get foot traffic from turntable-less customers hoping the coolness of the creaky floors and dusty racks will rub off on them. There are DIY-spaces like Dead Media, record label-affiliated joints like Fifth Element, and brand-spankin'-new shops like Flashlight Vinyl, where the minimalistic aesthetic guarantees at least 30 Instagram likes per shot.

These spaces don't just work alongside or complement the local music scene — they're deeply embedded in the lives of local and touring musicians. On any given night, a Twin Cities record store is transformed into a concert venue, a book-signing arena, or a workshop space.

In the spirit of Saturday's Record Store Day festivities, we decided to shine a light on the best indie record shops in town. You'll find the standbys, but also newer, millennial-run operations hoping to feed your vinyl addiction.

Agharta Records
2512 University Ave. W., St. Paul

Nestled on the border of Minneapolis and St. Paul on University Avenue, Agharta is one of the newer stores in this bunch. Owner Dylan Adams was a longtime server ("I spent most of my life asking people what kind of dressing they wanted on their salad," he quips), but eventually put his growing record collection to good use by opening Agharta.

Since opening in 2014, the Agharta space has doubled in size. Adams doesn't limit himself to particular genres, though he says the store currently weighs heavily with metal records. "They have good taste," says record collector and singer-songwriter Georgia Ramin (a.k.a. Miss Georgia Peach). "The last time I was there, their rap selection in 'recent arrivals' was unmatched anywhere I've literally ever been."

Audacity plays Dead Media

Audacity plays Dead Media

Rarest LP: A signed copy of Black Sabbath's Attention! Black Sabbath!, a rare German compilation. Adams says it's "priceless," but he'll entertain offers.

Clientele: Men from their late teens to early 60s who come in alone and spend $20-$30, according to Adams.

Cheapo Records
2600 Nicolett Ave. S., Minneapolis

They say quality is better than quantity, but when it comes to music, quality is relative, and if you can't find something you like at Cheapo Records' Minneapolis location, there is no helping you. Still big-box store-ish in terms of size, Cheapo's new location on Nicollet Avenue is actually a downsized version of its massive 17-year home on Lake Street, which is unsurprisingly being replaced by a Target.

Relocated to Eat Street in September, Cheapo is the least try-hard record store of them all. There are no frills, no flashy highlights, just a warehouse-looking building with red and white signage for days. It's reliable; it's cheap. Cheapo has two additional locations in St. Paul and Blaine.

Rarest LP: They've got a Grateful Dead box set for $100, a Beatles "butcher cover" (the original/label-rejected version of Yesterday and Today picturing the smiling band amid headless toy dolls and guts) for $250, and a Led Zeppelin box set for $140.

Clientele: Baby boomers, according to manager Neill Olson. Though since the vinyl surge, a younger crowd has flocked to Cheapo, he reports.

Dead Media
3330 E. 25th St., Minneapolis

Dead Media hit the Seward neighborhood about a year and a half ago as another project from record-collecting giant John Kass. Kass eventually handed the Dead Media stock and reins over to a new trio of owners — Walker Neudorff, Simon Brooks, and Colin Wilkinson — who shifted the store's focus to carrying a depth and breadth of cassette tapes.

"Most record stores don't keep up on or represent cassette labels, particularly locals," Neudorff says. Dead Media has volunteer cashiers, and its dedication to connecting with and showcasing local artists via selling their tapes, housing in-store shows, and selling 'zines aplenty gives this spot a unique grassroots vibe.

Rarest LP: On the Dead Media walls rests a blank vinyl slab with no markings that was discovered in the basement. Neudorff speculates that it's a rare original mix of The Velvet Underground & Nico, but no one has listened to it. It's yours for $699.99. Seriously.

Clientele: Neudorff describes Dead Media customers as "everything from young teens to elderly folks buying classic rock." The proximity from across-the-street hip dining spot Birchwood Café brings in a good amount of traffic, he says.

Electric Fetus
2000 Fourth Ave. S., Minneapolis

For Twin Cities music lovers, the Electric Fetus brings to mind sensations like the smell of incense and the sound of

creaky hardwood floors. The almost 50-year-old Fetus is perhaps the most inviting shop around. Its quirky and local gifts and clothing section creates a short buffer between the entrance and the record bins. The store finds that hard-to-reach balance of friendly and serious, providing multi-genre, time-spanning music in a non-pretentious way.

Shopper Liz Davis does most of her record buying at the Fetus, especially during 50-cent record sales. "Who knows what you're going to find that day?" she says. "I like going in there and searching and perusing for my favorite records."

Rarest LP: It fluctuates, but currently the Fetus has an original pressing of Alexander "Skip" Spence's Oar going for $300.

Hymie’s resident dog

Hymie’s resident dog

Clientele: The Fetus' hardcore record collectors are generally 30-year-old-plus guys, but advertising and marketing manager Dawn Novak says she sometimes sees three generations of a family shopping together.

Extreme Noise
407 W. Lake St., Minneapolis

Most record stores have a punk section. Extreme Noise is one massive punk section that branches off into different subgenres. The volunteer-run store turned 20 in 2014, and is now in its third (and hopefully final) location.

Ryan Lowe, a collective member of Extreme Noise, moved to Minneapolis in 2001 largely because of the era's lively punk scene and for Extreme Noise itself. It's safe to say he's found his dream job, as he now spends his time ordering about half of the store's inventory.

Avid collector and volunteer Alex Blillman, who has more than 1,000 LPs to her name, is attracted to the store because of its DIY ethos. "[Extreme Noise is] concerned with supporting the community and making punk music as accessible as possible," she says.

Rarest LP: Situationist Comedy from Dillinger Four on pink vinyl from the Minneapolis punk greats' 2001 release show. It goes for $125.

Clientele: It's not necessarily the mohawked, leather jacket-sporting crowd you'd expect, according to Lowe. He says the shop attracts a surprisingly diverse crowd, but "not as many kids these days."

Fifth Element
2411 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis

Fifth Element functions not only as the sole Twin Cities hip-hop-focused record store, but also as the heart of all things Rhymesayers Entertainment (the label's offices are located upstairs). Arriving just four years after Rhymesayers' formation in 1995, the store goes beyond distributing RSE artists, filling a void with an expansive selection of hip-hop records.

Fifth Element has a substantial role in the annual Soundset Music Festival, sells DJ and music production equipment, and hosts small DJ sets and open mic nights.

Dead Media

Dead Media

Rarest LP: Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... (a.k.a. The Purple Tape) for $60.

Clientele: "Anyone you would see walking down Hennepin," Fifth Element employee Paul Cameron says. "Mostly middle-aged guys who keep up to date with new music."

Flashlight Vinyl
1519 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis

Flashlight is the rookie on the list. Its doors opened just a couple months ago, with a sleek black-and-white design and dedication to exclusively 12-inch vinyl.

Owned and operated by Raoul Benavides, Flashlight is likely the only record store in the Twin Cities with two floors, with the second one housing funk, soul, R&B, and hip-hop selections, plus 5,000 $1 records. With barely any outdoor signage, the shop filled a huge record-buying need in northeast Minneapolis.

Rarest LP: A $1,500 copy of Rammellzee and K-Rob's Beat Bop. It came out on Jean-Michel Basquiat's label Tartown in 1983 with a limited run of 500. "It's considered to be the holy grail of rap records because of its custom artwork by [Basquiat]," Benavides says.

Clientele: A family, Benavides says. On a recent day, we saw parents buying '70s and '80s stuff, and their teen kids buying Run the Jewels and Arctic Monkeys.

Hymie's Vintage Records
3820 E. Lake St., Minneapolis

Raoul Benavides of Flashlight

Raoul Benavides of Flashlight

Walking into Hymie's Vintage Records is like coming home. Dave and Laura Hoenack own and operate the store together, and Laura describes herself as being like Mr. Hooper, the Sesame Street shopkeeper who watches the community grow from behind the counter. "I just wanna run the corner store," Laura says.

Opened in 1988 by Jim "Hymie" Peterson, the East Lake store isn't boutique-like, and it's not curated like other shops, Laura says. It's just a growing, ever-changing collection of everything and anything, as well as a performance space where local bands can entertain handfuls of people among record crates.

Record collector Christian Fritz, who owns the record label Mpls Ltd, says loving Hymie's is simple: They go the extra mile to have a great local selection and cater to local artists.

Rarest LP: They don't know! That's not really the point of Hymie's, Laura says.

Clientele: Laura says there are two different types of collectors she sees at Hymie's — people who really love records, and people who really love music. The former obsess over the perfect editions and untouched covers, while the latter just want to hear copious amounts of music.

It Records
13 Fifth St. NE, Minneapolis

It Records is the speakeasy equivalent of record stores. With no outdoor signage indicating its existence, It Records exists in a room within vintage furniture store FindFurnish.

It's the decade-later resurrection of Nicollet's Mall's Let It Be Records, having taken Let It Be owner Ryan Cameron's LP collective and given it a new home in northeast Minneapolis.

The It Records room is very compact, but according to FindFurnish co-owner Marie Zellar, the selection is potent. "There's not a lot, but there's no crap," she says. "If I ever go bankrupt, that's why." The placement within an already operational store actually adds charm to It Records. “I think it’s really cool that a furniture store has a record store in it,” neighborhood coordinator Christina Perfetti says. “Plus, there are usually some awesome, not-too-picked-over finds in there.”

Rarest LP: When valuable stuff falls in his lap, Cameron keeps the "big buck" stuff for online sales. The most expensive records are around $50, but he often sells older techno and hip-hop records online for higher prices.

Clientele: Because of its linkage to FindFurnish, shoppers who come in as couples often split off into the "record shopper" and the "furniture shopper," according to FindFurnish co-owner Erik Wivinus. Everyone's happy!

Co-owner Erik Wivinus of It Records

Co-owner Erik Wivinus of It Records

Treehouse Records
2557 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis

"We've always sold vinyl," Treehouse Records owner Mark Trehus says. Even in the '90s when CDs dominated, Treehouse was a tireless supplier of vinyl. "We were one of the last indie stores to finally get CDs," Trehus notes, though the recent vinyl resurgence has certainly been a boon to the store.

The smallish yet celebrated shop formerly known as Oar Folkjokeopus is steeped in local music lore, as it was the go-to hangout for '80s punk bands, most notably the Replacements. “I like the size of it,” Perfetti says. “I think that they are the most knowledgeable without pretension.”

Rarest LP: Treehouse boasts a $7,500 original copy of the Shaggs' Philosophy of the World — not the reissued version, Trehus points out. He also has a $1,000 copy of the Dead Weather's Blue Blood Blues with an additional 7-inch buried inside, and a copy of Mind & Matter's I'm Under Your Spell for $500.

Clientele: People who want to listen outside of the box. Trehus says his customers' music tastes and ambitions align more with what's on KFAI and Radio K than the Current.

Other great stores: