Photo by Benjamin Austin
When I walk into a room filled with records, my pulse jumps, my temperature rises, and for an instant I feel something akin to happiness. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a bad independent record store. If there is one, it is not mentioned here. What follows is not a survey of Atlanta’s retail music, but simply a fan’s description of some rooms filled with records. These stores are scattered around in-town Atlanta, but the best area for record shopping is Little Five Points.
WAX N FACTS
Wax N Facts is the granddaddy of all Atlanta independent record stores. When I first took a Marta bus to this legend yet-to-be, the train system was not built. The store was half its current size, but owners Danny and Harry were there behind the counter, where they remain today, as I purchased my first copy of the Hampton Grease Band masterpiece Music to Eat and the Fans’ debut 7-inch. These days, Wax N Facts continues to stock what made that first trip worth taking: plenty of used vinyl, independent LPs, and singles. And the prices cannot be beat. Somewhere along the way, they started stocking those newfangled CDs, and despite all the complaining noises I have made over the years, they continue to hawk the damned annoying things. 432 Moreland Ave.
Criminal Records recently made their third relocation within the two-block Little Five Points business district, and it was a very smart move. The new store allows for the best selection of new vinyl in Atlanta. Criminal also carries used vinyl, CDs, DVDs, and an amazing selection of comics, graphic novels, and magazines hard to find anywhere else in Atlanta. Their staff knows what they are talking about, and Saturdays they have in-stores with live, good bands. 1154-A Euclid Ave.
FULL MOON RECORDS
Full Moon Records is the third great L5P record emporium, just out of spitting range of the heart of the neighborhood up McClendon. It’s small with annoyingly limited hours, but no Atlanta store has a smarter selection of used and new vinyl than this cramped room of treasures. The tight, limited selection of jazz and blues is excellent. 1653 McClendon Ave.
Ella Guru is another small shop, in an area once considered the armpit of the neighborhood. I lived in a 50-year-old school bus illegally parked ten feet from the current Ella Guru locale, next to a field of kudzu. On my one trip to this tiny store, I purchased the new John “Drumbo” French CD, City of Refuge, which I thought was fitting when shopping at one of two Atlanta retail record outlets with Captain Beefheart-derived names. The selection of vinyl is shabby, but they’ve got plenty of used and new CDs. B101 Elizabeth.
LOW YO YO STUFF RECORDS
Low Yo Yo Stuff Records moved a couple of years ago from their tiny Athens hole-within-a-hole-in-the-wall to this new, more spacious locale. This place is worth the Herculean effort required to drive out to Chamblee on the two days they are actually open. Todd and company specialize in long-unavailable punk and no-wave and experimental jazz and rock that you absolutely cannot find anywhere else. 3854 N Peachtree Rd.
Another old Atlanta great. The prices are not rock-bottom, but sometimes that can be a good thing. Stores with the lowest prices tend toward a selection of the lowest-common-denominator crap. Wuxtry prices keep below “market value” but are high enough to retain an above-average selection of good records, and there are some amazing high-end collectibles along the walls. 2096 N Decatur Rd.
Decatur CD is mostly about CDs, as its name loudly states, and they probably have the best selection of CDs in the city. Warren is able to order most out-of-stock items overnight. As a sign out front announces (and confuses many), Decatur CD has a partnership with A Cappella Books. Inside, accompanying the records and CDs, is a selection of music-related books and some nonmusical best sellers and books of local interest. All cards on the table: I am one of the managers of A Cappella Books and partially responsible for the book selection at Decatur CD. Obviously, it is an excellent selection. 356 W Ponce de Leon Ave.
Kudzu is the best of many antique markets scattered about suburban Atlanta with booths specializing in vinyl. Last time I made the drive, they had at least four large booths, one with a better, smarter selection than most independent retail stores. 2974 E Ponce de Leon Ave.
Fantasyland has a reputation among record enthusiasts for being overpriced and not worth the drive out to Buckhead, but because it is off the well-worn collectors’ track and because it is pricey, there are often amazing records hidden in the stacks that would not last two minutes in the new-arrival bins of Wuxtry or Wax N Facts. Fantasyland also has a scattershot selection of used music magazines and soft-core girlie rags. I have found long-sought-after issues of Forced Exposure and Trouser Press among the dross. The most remarkable thing about this ancient record outlet is that it is still open after God-knows-how-many decades. To this same God, I pray these forefathers of record geeks stay in the business another decade or six. 2839 Peachtree Rd NE.
Glen is our vote for historian laureate of Atlanta for the “old days.” In the 80s and early 90s, he edited the Atlanta music zine LowLife, hosted the Destroy All Music show on Georgia Tech’s student radio, and played in Medicine Suite and the earliest incarnations of Cat Power. You should check out his blog next time you’re near a computer. It’s glenthrasher.blogspot.com.
THE LUGUBRIOUS GLOAMING OF ATLANTA'S BOOK SCENE
The business of books is past expiration date, on life support, you pick your cliché. The party line is doom, and the arguments for this unpleasant scenario are many and sound. It certainly makes sense that in the age of Google and MySpace and the iPhone, a thing as seemingly antiquated as a book would not be the first thing most folks would turn to in their search for entertainment and information. From my lofty position as used-book manager at A Cappella Books, I get mixed signals. When our store opened almost 20 years ago, the neighborhood seemed to be a thriving center for independent bookstores. The corridor between LFP and Virginia-Highland was scattered with an impressive selection of stores: Charis Books, McGuire’s, the Science-Fiction & Mystery Bookstore, the Small Press Bookstore, Atlanta Book Exchange. All but two of those stores moved or closed within a year of A Cappella’s opening, though strangely those two—Charis and ABE—remain in business today.
Nobody is getting rich selling books. In fact, even books considered rarities and selling at prices starting at $45 just a decade ago are these days going for literal pennies. Even if there are relatively few copies of a book available, websites such as AbeBooks.com and Amazon.com allow customers to view pretty much all the available copies simultaneously. That old trickster supply and demand goes to work, and prices hit the basement floor. Most used books are literally not worth the paper they are printed on. In many cases, those trying to sell their books might want to sell them by the pound to a recycling center. I hear a chorus of angry noises from you three book lovers, and I sincerely hope you do get angry.
There are book warehouses selling cheap copies of almost every well-known and many much-less-well-known book of the past 100 years at literally one cent per book. They add a shipping fee of $3 to $5 and end up making a few cents after labor and materials. This is not the book business we at A Cappella want to be in. Nor do we have the staff or space such operations require, obviously. We end up scrapping around the edges, finding new ways to maintain our integrity and pick up a dime of profit. We are still buying and selling used books, but more often than not we have come to rely on a thoughtful selection of new books and author appearances (which have recently become our bread and butter). Who knows what we will be doing next year to keep “the smartest bookstore in Atlanta” open and still smart.