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Record Stores in the LES: Keeping Punk and Rock History Alive

A Guide to Record Stores in the Lower East Side, NYC

Written by: Camila Molina / Photos by: Camila Molina

While streaming services continue to grow in popularity and are honestly what comes to mind when thinking about listening to music today, that does not mean other means of consuming this art form don’t still hold a special place in our hearts. This sentiment is not just for your grandma who pretty much reminds you once a week how “you kids don’t know music like I do.” In fact, you don’t have to reminisce about the ‘70s to acknowledge that record stores serve as pillars to the music community in most cities and extend far past specific genres or subcultures. Moreover, record stories exist as a safe place for all music lovers and geeks.

New York City’s Lower East Side in particular is revered for being the birthplace of many subcultures and some of my favorite associated genres, such as punk. In 1973, the LES became home to the evolutionary club, CBGB, which has been referred to as the “undisputed birthplace of punk” by countless sources such as Billboard and The Music Origins Project. The club transformed not only punk but also hardcore, new wave, underground rock, folk and country. They even hosted the critically acclaimed punk and rock band, the Talking Heads, for their first gig. The CBGB was more than just an iconic club space and was home to galleries, and you guessed it, a record store. Despite the club’s closure in 2006, as well as the closure of the neighboring CBGB Record Canteen back in the ‘80s, these rock relics still remain prevalent in the Lower East Side.

Record stores do more than just carry on the story of beloved punk and rock bands and reach beyond historical significance. The Lower East Side in particular may be known for the birth of punk, but it is no secret that the music scene, especially record stores, surpass the confinements of genre. The wide variety of record stores embrace a community for all music lovers. While I do have my personal favorites, it is pointless to rank these stores because they all have their own distinct charm and hold a space for every kind of music enthusiast. Therefore, here's a record store guide for the Lower East Side, highlighting where you can best indulge in your favorite music and ambiance preferences.

A-1 Record Store, 439 E. 6th St, New York, NY 10009

A-1 is a store where anything goes. I have left with Duran Duran’s 1981 album “Harvest” for just $10, a refreshing price sticker when anything that can possibly be marked as vintage in New York City comes with a huge upcharge. The store’s wide range of options can be reflected by what else I purchased from them: Randy Travis’s 1989 album “No Holdin’ Back,” an unused Foo Fighters 2021 LP “Black Vinyl” record and an old tape of obscure scary stories. I actually worked on this piece as I listened to one of my favorite finds: Johnny Cash playing live from San Quentin Prison. Impressively, everything I have just listed was $18 or less. You can basically find whatever you’re looking for at an affordable price, and honestly some things you didn't know you needed but bought anyways — because who doesn’t love a scary bedtime story. The store is plastered with unique music-related art from album covers and record labels, and I noticed some pieces that went back several decades. It’s like if someone sticker-bombed their store — except instead of stickers, it is quality posters and album art. The placement of the art along with basically everything in the store was done with love to contribute to the energetic yet cozy ambiance. If you enjoy exploring diverse music genres instead of sticking to one niche, this is the place to go. Their "20XX" section consistently impresses, showcasing artists in even less mainstream areas, such as Knuckle Puck, a critically acclaimed pop-punk and emo band. So, you can enjoy the music of today, yesterday or virtually any era of the last century, neatly organized according to their respective time frames. Almost as interesting as their record selection is the unpredictable and energetic ambiance, as I have come in and heard experimental techno on the speakers for days, yet come in the next week to hear non-stop R&B. So, even if you’re just going in to escape from the cold and you think the place just looks cool, you won’t be disappointed by the ever-evolving atmosphere. 

Ergot Records, 32 E 2nd St, New York, NY 10003

The next record store on the list for their variety is Ergot Records. The incredible and diverse selection ranges from sonic groove to ambient, techno to rock and comedy performances to punk. It is complimented by the staff’s warmth and quirky nature. The kind staff member who checked me out taught me how to dye skirts with walnuts — a perfect end to my unique experience. In the spirit of LES culture, they have a great selection of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, as well as the Ramones, which I could not help but take home with me. Outside of the Lower East Side classics, they have a beautiful selection of more hard to find pieces, such as some rare Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica. Despite the variety in pricier rare records, they are not limited in their also just as wonderful and more affordable items. I also added various albums to my collection that came from this classic LES gem including The Who’s 1981 album “Hooligans” for just $6, Bob Dylan’s 1978 album “Street Legal” for $10, Pink Floyd’s 1972 “Live from Portsmouth Guildhall” and a record of the best of Grateful Dead. These low prices do not reflect the quality of the records, as even the used and old records I purchased such as The Beatles’ 1967 “Magical Mystery TourLP — which came with the most precious picture book — works perfectly with no skips. And if you have a favorite Beatle, then you can get records such as Paul McCartney’s 1976 album “Wings at the Speed of Sound,” which I purchased for just $14. In the essence of solo-work, they also have a lot of Fleetwood Mac options but also have albums by Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac including tracks from his 1979 album “In The Skies.” Overall, you will not be disappointed by this often overlooked store with its inspiring yet soothing ambience, flawless organization, friendly staff and records of all styles and ages.

Stranded Records NYC, 218 E 5th St, New York, NY 10003

For the rock records collector, the jazz lover and international music enthusiast, Stranded Records NYC should be your go to. Featuring both records from all over the world and albums close to home, such as Albert Ayer playing in Greenwich Village, this tiny but mighty store has a cozy atmosphere to match the soothing jazz records it sells. This is not to say they do not have a great rock section. It is actually one of the best I have seen in terms of price diversity as well as record quality. You can find sought-after rock, grunge, indie, and alternative classics like records by Pearl Jam, Pavement, Queen, and Pink Floyd, typically priced around $25. Additionally, Stranded Records offers a diverse range of rare treasures, including the highly coveted $100 copy of Harlem’s “Hippies” 2010 album and a sealed original mono record of the 1967 Beatles album “Beatles VI” priced at $700. Enhancing the exposed brick walls and polished wooden cases, the records are showcased beautifully, exuding vibrancy. Many appear brand new, if not in spotless condition. Several of the records have labels with exact dates on them, providing further transparency on what you are buying. I also appreciated the large collection of soul and country, which is often overlooked in many record stores. While this store may not be as rock or punk oriented as other options, it unquestionably merits acknowledgment for its exceptional assortment of classic rock, grunge, indie and alternative records, catering to aficionados who eagerly seek out rare gems. Unlike the other stores listed, it has two other locations, so if you are reading this from the West Coast, you can also find Stranded Records in Oakland and San Francisco. 

Limited to One Records, 221 E 10th St, New York, NY 10003

Upon entering Limited to One Records, I immediately had to ask what was playing on the speakers. It was a 2013 album from the owner’s personal collection, “It Tired Me All the Same” by Arrows in Her, which set the tone for the store experience: lots of great underground punk. You can find punk and alternative music of all eras and corners of music history. During my recent visit, the store was featuring not one, but at least three Bad Brains records, all of which largely contributed to the band’s leadership in DC punk and overall, hardcore punk nationwide. This included record number two of just 500 of their 2012 album “Into The Future,” which I did end up buying and for its vintage state is still bright and plays wonderfully. The next of the handful I found was a 1997 pressing of their self-titled 1982 album “Bad Brains” and a very early pressing of "I Against I." If you go anywhere from this article, and you’re just looking for the energy that has been lost in many record stores for punk lovers, go to this store. It was truly alternative music heaven. It is the only record store in this article that has an obvious emo section, conveying not just punk but the genres that emerged from its culture and music such as post-emo, including even a first pressing of Hot Mulligan’s 2020 LP, “I Won’t Reach Out To You.” Limited To One easily caters to punk, rock and alternative enthusiasts of all walks of life. Those who had vinyl back when it was one of the only options for listening can enjoy their niche favorite parts of the punk wave they grew up on, such as an original UK 1982 pressing of Iggy Pop’s 1982 album “Zombie Birdhouse.” However, you can also find plenty of recent works of emerging artists, as the store has a wide selection of records from independent label Pure Noise Records, who is working with hardcore and punk bands like Knocked Loose, Koyo and Belmont. Despite the store being most friendly for those looking for independent artists in the punk and pop punk scene, there are still plenty of options for those who love music that broke into the mainstream. One of the first records you see on the store’s wall when you walk in is from Panic! At The Disco. In regards to price, the store has a huge range. Since many of their records are hard to come by, the price range tends to be more expensive. Several records are in the price range of $25 to $70, with many of the items on the wall being around $80 to a couple hundred dollars. However, they still have plenty of more affordable options, with records being priced as low as $11 when I was last in the store. Moreover, they have a large selection of CDs, priced at two for $5. They also have a wide variety of cassettes priced as low as $4. For affordable vinyl, they have a wide variety of singles, many of them for less than $10. If you’re looking to get into the nitty gritty of punk music history and uncover records of genuine historical importance, love hunting for rare records or just want to find some great new alternative music, Limited To One Records is the place to go.

While digitalization is inevitable, owning your media and records is certainly not dead. New York City has countless record stores, but the warmth and vibrant vitality of the Lower East Side truly shines in these stores. 


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