Leaving aside (at least for the moment) the question of why you should purchase physical media, this set of posts aims to help you decide where to do it by Seattle neighborhood. Each location has a map link in the store name, as well as a brief review, a star-based indication of quality (1 to 4), and an idea of the products they sell. Today: Belltown and Ballard. Coming soon: Capitol Hill, Fremont, West Seattle, etc.
Note: all stores are open at time of writing. If you feel I've missed something, give me a shout.
Probably the best place to go for obscure punk, goth, hardcore, industrial and psychobilly—basically all the subgenres that Pitchfork tends to ignore. They have fairly reasonable prices and a moderately sized selection of both cds and vinyl—definitely worth the trip to Belltown. The staff were helpful and willing to share their vast knowledge (and help set me straight about the best and worst 7 Seconds’ records).
☆☆☆ New and Used Punk, Hardcore, Industrial, etc
I had no idea that this shop was even here and I’ve been buying vinyl in Ballard for years! It occupies the second floor of a small house on 15th ave nw and they sell all sorts of weird house frau garb and other bohemian/vintage stuff. However, their excellent vinyl selection occupies far and away the most space (with what I estimate to be several thousand titles of rock, jazz, rock, punk, etc). While they lack the space of the larger stores, the owner (I assume) was very helpful and the prices were surprisingly reasonable. This shop has an awesome vibe!
☆☆☆ Used Vinyl and CDs, Limited Tapes.
Located in the heart of Ballard, this shop has a sign out front (at present) that quotes the Wall Street Journal as calling them “One of the five best music stores in America”. Maybe that refers to a previous location; all I see is a museum filled with inaccessible walls of expensive merchandise that I could pull out of a discount bin elsewhere. If you don’t like to dig and you want a specific record right now, then this might be the place for you, but I’d rather go across the street to Sonic Boom instead.
☆ Used Vinyl
Stellar shop. New and lightly used vinyl releases and cds with an emphasis on independent and obscure titles. The shop is always attractive and the staff willing to help you find what you’re looking for. To be honest, this is usually the first place I turn to for new music because they’re always on top of release dates and have pretty reasonable prices. My only complaint is that the “sale” vinyl is not really priced as such, but their selection of used cds is ample and cheap enough ($5.99 or 6.99 on average) to justify the trip in itself. Also, awesome in-stores on a regular basis.
☆☆☆☆ New and Used CDs, Vinyl and Some Tapes
Goodwill: sometimes you can find a couple of used CDs that are worthwhile here.
Public Library Branch: lots of good, in-demand titles to sample. Trust me!