By Harris Wheless
August 20, 2019 (updated)
Legendary music journalist and A&R man Tim Sommer recently once said in an interview on The New York Times‘ Popcast: “If you want to know the story of American alternative music, you look at Winston Salem in 1975, not CBGBs.”
North Carolina has a long tradition of folk and old-time music in Appalachia and the Piedmont, but the state also has a proud alternative music history. It played a huge part in the first rumblings of independent music in the South. Link Wray, who practically invented the power chord and guitar feedback with “Rumble,” was born in Dunn, North Carolina. Chapel Hill and Winston-Salem, which were breeding grounds for bands like Superchunk and the dBs, have been notable purveyors of the DIY sound since the ‘80s.
The roots of alternative music can still be found in the state’s venues, labels, and independent record stores. These vinyl shops are still alive and well in the streaming era, and they remain cornerstones of North Carolina’s cultural landscape. A record store is a great place to shop for new music, get recommendations from knowledgeable staff, and engage with the local music scene. If you’re looking for something new or old to spin, point your feet in the direction of one of these stores.
Schoolkids has been a staple of North Carolina’s vinyl music scene since its first store opened in 1974 across the street from NC State. Schoolkids now has locations in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, a label services division, and an in-house music publication called Blurt. But, as the banner on the site’s About Us page declares: “Schoolkids Records is not just a record store.” The Raleigh location hosts in-store performances and has a full bar with local and craft beers. Schoolkids has been named by Time Magazine and The Grammys as one of the ten best record stores in the country. Many landmark indie artists got their start working at or selling records at the store, including Ben Folds, The Connells, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and Archers of Loaf.
Lunchbox Records (Charlotte)
Central Avenue is home to Lunchbox Records, a Plaza Midwood staple offering new and used records, books, CDs, DVDs, and memorabilia. Lunchbox started as a label focused on the Atlanta punk scene in 1990, and was eventually taken over by Steve Wishart, who got some assistance from his brother, current store owner Scott Wishart. The label ran for a few years, then the name lay unused until Scott decided to dust it off and use it for the record store in 2005. The shop also provides a space for bands to play and has hosted 340 performances and counting. If you’re looking to sell or buy music in Charlotte, look no further than Lunchbox’s doorstep. Scott also plays drums in popular indie rock band Late Bloomer, which you can also catch at venues around Charlotte.
All Day Records was recently named the best record store in North Carolina by Vinyl Me, Please. Situated on Carrboro’s main drag, this little hole in the wall is a major hub for the local music scene. The store opened in 2010 by the owners of All Day’s sister establishment, Nightlight Bar and Club, located across the Chapel Hill-Carrboro line a few blocks away. Carrboro, dubbed the “Paris of Piedmont,” is also home to the legendary Cat’s Cradle venue and a robust alternative and roots music scene. All Day is also one of the largest distributors of house and techno music in the U.S. Shoppers can always look forward to new arrivals spinning on the turntable, and a mixture of new and used records spanning a wide array of different genres.
The doors of this record store have been open since 2005 for vinyl nerds, casual shoppers, and concertgoers. Bull City Records, located on Hillsborough Road near Duke, deals in new and used vinyl, with a selection that includes everything from psych to electronic. After opening, the store quickly cemented its place in the community. In 2007, owner Chaz Martenstein and other local artists formed Bull City HQ, a multi-use public space that is used as a venue for unknown and up-and-coming musicians. Bull City Records is now the longest-running record store in Durham, a streak that is likely to continue.
One of Raleigh’s go-to spots for live music since 1997, the venue not only hosts an eclectic mix of touring regional and national acts, but in November of 2019, The Pour House converted the second level of the venue into a record shop. Featuring a full bar, you can peruse through a solid selection on new and used vinyl, and once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, the second story record shop will also host live performances, record signings, album release and listening parties.
As you walk into Carolina Soul Records, you’ll notice the glass door that bears the store’s logo and states in all caps, “WE BUY RECORDS.” The store, located in downtown Durham, specializes in albums you didn’t know you needed– rare slabs of soul, funk, jazz, hip-hop, and everything in between. It’s enough to make any avid vinyl collector feel like a fox in a hen house. Carolina Soul holds weekly auctions of rare records on eBay and Discogs, sometimes featuring up to 1,000 titles. The store itself holds nearly 10,000 records, which includes everything from groovy funk 45s to heavily sought-after shellac 78s.
Sorry State is the place to be for collectors of punk, metal, hardcore, and garage records. It began as a record label in 2005 and has put out nearly 100 releases since then from local artists and others across the globe. In 2013, Sorry State opened a brick-and-mortar store on West Morgan Street in downtown Raleigh. Employees regularly travel hundreds of miles to buy small and large used vinyl collections. The store has over 2,500 unique titles currently in stock. Sorry State also has weekly email zine/newsletter and a store blog with featured releases and other recommended records.
Nice Price is a prime location for both selling and buying vinyl records. The store is situated on Hillsborough Street on the western edge of NC State’s campus, right next to Cup A Joe coffee shop. It’s been operating for over 20 years and is a cornerstone of the Raleigh vinyl community. Nice Price carries books and records, as well as cassettes, CDs, and DVDs, all with affordable price tags, as their name would suggest. The store’s vinyl is an eclectic mix of new titles and used albums, spanning all genres.
Repo Record in Charlotte specializes in used LPs, vinyl reissues, CDs, and DVDs ranging from metal to jazz to an impressive selection of country music. The store also carries vintage audio gear, including turntables, receivers, amps, speakers, and DJ equipment, which have all been tested and serviced. Vinyl collectors will dig the large assortment of used records and turntables. There are thousands of used 45s with just a $1 price tag. Repo also buys used equipment and music, and has an expansive discogs store full of quality vinyl. The store often hosts performances by local artists on Fridays and Saturdays.
Since its doors opened in 2004, Harvest Records has established itself as hands down the best record store in Asheville. Located on Haywood Road in west Asheville, the store buys, sells, and trades new and used CDs and vinyl. Harvest also books and promotes touring acts for concerts in Asheville. In 2011, they expanded the space to accommodate a wider selection, audio equipment and accessories, cassettes and, of course, more elbow room. Since its founding, Harvest Records has risen to become one of Western North Carolina’s major cultural hubs. Harvest’s in-store performances, listening parties, and other special events have cemented its place in the community.
It’s easy to see why Gravity calls itself “your favorite record store’s favorite record store.” Crate diggers will find themselves in heaven among the funk, soul, jazz, new wave and other oldies favorites that fill the used vinyl section of the store. The store buys, sells, and trades vinyl, CDs, and cassettes in addition to buying, selling, and servicing vintage turntables, receivers, CD players, and other audio equipment. It also hosts local artist performances in-store. Gravity is also the proud winner of the 2017 Cutest Record Store Shop Dog Award. Swing by to dig up some vinyl and hang out with staff and community members.
Underdog Records in downtown Winston-Salem is a brick-and-mortar record store in the classic style. Underdog stocks new and used LPs and 45s, vintage stereo equipment, turntables, and LP accessories, from vinyl cleaning kits to new LP sleeves. The store, which opened in 2013, boasts a music selection that covers practically every decade and genre of modern music, and welcomes music fans of all sorts. Underdog regularly posts photos and flip-through videos of fresh inventory on social media. It also prides itself on its relaxed, family-friendly setting and fair prices. The staff add new titles to the store’s inventory every business day. Feel free to stop by and check out all the good music for yourself.
The Record Krate (Raleigh + Wake Forest)
This is one for the crate diggers. The Record Krate’s inventory includes lots of used records, with rare gems just waiting to be found. Tucked away behind the Devon apartment buildings on St. Mary’s Street, The Record Krate’s Raleigh location is a hole in the wall if there ever was one. The store sells new and used records and tapes, spanning jazz, punk, country, weird subgenres, and other rarities. Collectors will be wowed by the store’s selection of hard-to-find vinyl. The Record Krate’s other location is Wake Forest’s only independent record store, and is a prime spot for area vinyl shoppers. Both of these locations should be a go-to for any music lover looking to add to his or her collection.
In this article
- All Day Records
- Archers of Loaf
- ben folds
- Bull City Records
- Carolina Soul Records
- Cat's Cradle
- chapel hill
- Chaz Martenstein
- Gravity Records
- harvest records
- Link Wray
- Nice Price Books
- plaza midwood
- Repo Record
- Schoolkids Records
- Sorry State Records
- Squirrel Nut Zippers
- The Connells
- The Record Krate
- Underdog Records
- winston salem