The two best record stores in Chicago are cut from radically different cloth. Jazz Record Mart is an increasingly rare breed, an old-school shop specializing in deep-catalog jazz and blues. (Full disclosure: I worked there for about four years in the late 80s and early 90s.) Day-to-day responsibilities fall on longtime manager Ron Bierma, but in many ways the place is an extension of owner (and Delmark Records owner) Bob Koester, who broke into the biz when 78s were still the dominant format. The bins are a delightful, slightly chaotic mess, crammed with enough merchandise to keep you digging for hours. While big-box stores may stock a dozen or so Miles Davis titles, JRM probably has more than a hundred, and they’ll give just about any new release a shot, whether it’s an LP, an import, or a small indie title. Used records are a good chunk of the inventory as well, and while some are exorbitantly priced—sometimes by no apparent logic—it’s easy to stumble upon a gem. 27 E. Illinois, 312-222-1467, jazzmart.com.
Dusty Groove, on the other hand, is a model of streamlined precision: if an item doesn’t sell quickly, it’ll probably be dropped from stock. Meticulously organized and tidy, the store has survived the downturn in music retail by specializing as much as possible. In addition to having a killer used-vinyl selection, it’s the best source in town—if not in the country—for Brazilian music, funk, and classic soul, with impressive amounts of jazz, Latin music, and French pop to boot. Owner Rick Wojcik restlessly eyes new music from all over the globe, routinely picking up titles that other shops will get only months or years later. 1120 N. Ashland, 773-342-5800, dustygroove.com.
I visit both of these stores every week, and even with all the promos I get as a music writer, I routinely find stuff I have to buy. —Peter Margasak
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