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.
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!
Part II:Capitol Hill:
This place is one of my top choices for new and used CDs and new vinyl (Sonic Boom being the other) because it's literally a warehouse devoted to sound. They have a lot of new stuff set up to sample, several racks of new and used CDs and vinyl that probably measure more than 70 feet each, and a ton of $3.99 independent and semi-rare releases. They don’t maintain a digital inventory of what they have, which is kind of irritating, but that also means that a little bit of digging can pay off massively. You probably won't be able to cruise the whole store in one visit.
☆☆☆☆ New and Used CDs, Vinyl and Cassettes
This consignment shop rose out of the ashes of the Sonic Boom Capitol Hill location and I like it even better than the original (despite my love for the Ballard shop). There are a couple of sellers that have ridiculous prices (this is another place that sells $4 plus cassettes), but the good sellers more than make up for it. Dollar tapes (Pixies, South African rockabilly—good titles), $3.99 used CDs, and a bunch of used vinyl to spelunk through. Go to Wall of Sound afterward and make it an afternoon.
☆☆☆ Used Vinyl, CDs and Cassettes
I freely admit that I don’t know enough about obscure sub-genres of house, trance, hip-hop, and dubstep to judge the selection at this store, but that being said, this is where I would go to start to learn. This surprisingly large store caters to DJs in the form of gear that I would have no idea how to use, and a very large, vinyl-only music selection. The prices look like they are on the higher end for used material, but I think that anyone with any of the above interests would love this place.
☆☆☆ or ☆☆☆☆ (Because I don’t feel entirely competent to judge)
New and Used Vinyl
It’s a small shop with a small, and somewhat pricey, selection of vinyl, tapes, and CDs. They seem to specialize in the most popular independent and hip music titles with some local stuff interspersed, but they pale in comparison to shops like Wall of Sound, Melrose Market, and Everyday Music that are right around the corner. Good in-stores on occasion.
☆☆ New and used CDs, Vinyl, and Limited Cassettes
Value Village is a thrift shop with multiple stores in Seattle and the Capitol Hill location has a music section on the second floor. They have a little bit (and I mean a little) of everything—tapes, cds and vinyl. The selection is not great, but also not terribly priced. In other words, it’s not worth the trip in itself, but worth stopping in, especially if you have a thing for pop hits from the ‘90s.
☆ Limited Used CDs, Vinyl, and Cassettes
This place really is indispensible for anyone interested in avant garde or experimental music. It’s small, but for what they do they do it very well. I personally like the suitcase full of old cassettes that they sell for 50 cents each; I rarely know the artists, but they all seem to be forgotten gems. They sell CDs and vinyl primarily, with a large selection of weird local releases that the owner is only too happy to help you navigate. Prices aren’t great on some new items, but that’s probably because it isn’t available anywhere else.
☆☆☆ New and Used Rare, Avant Garde, and Experimental Vinyl, CDs, and Limited Cassettes
Its been a while since I’ve been in to Holy Cow Records, but from what I remember it’s exactly what you’d think a shop in the middle of Seattle’s Pike Place would be like: a little bit shabby with used bins full of so-so looking disc jackets. Some good used CDs, but I don’t think anyone would plan a trip here. You walk in cause you’re in Pike Place, then you look around, then you finish shopping elsewhere.
☆ New and Used Vinyl and CDs
Freemont Vintage Outlet is a massive consignment shop across the street from the actual Jive Time location; however, their stock is different (and ample) enough to warrant separate trips. I really don’t know how Jive Time does it, but they always have the best used vinyl selection in town. Whether you’re into early Patsy Cline recordings, Jazz, New Wave, or Rock you will undoubtedly leave with your arms full of $.99 and $3 records and CDs. I’ve even found some noise and punk floating though here from time to time. You won’t regret spending an afternoon digging in either of these locations.
☆☆☆☆ Used Vinyl, CDs, and Some Cassettes