One Crate City: A Guide to Winnipeg Record Stores

Photo by Alexandra Ross
Photo by Alexandra Ross

Three years ago, I stumbled across a turntable at the local thrift store. Since then, I’ve spent many afternoons and evenings flipping through the crates at numerous Winnipeg record stores, hunting for a rare used LP, or the latest release from one of my favourite bands. I decided early on to avoid Amazon and major retailers, focusing instead on sourcing my vinyl collection from independent local record shops (or from indie labels’ web stores if something was difficult to find locally). All those trips to record stores got me thinking that it might be fun to write a little about Winnipeg record stores.

Of course, I can only write about the record stores that I’ve been to, and there are several places you can buy vinyl in Winnipeg that are not on this list. There are also collectibles and vintage stores to consider, and you can sometimes find gems there. If you’re a fan of a Winnipeg record store I omitted, or if you love crate digging in other cities, do share your stories in the comments section.

Music Trader – 97 Osborne St.

Music Trader opened in 1999, and Movie Village in 1984. They used to be two separate stores, located about a block apart. But in 2012, Shoppers Drug Mart announced it was expanding, and Music Trader and Movie Village were forced to cram into the Movie Village location at 97 Osborne St. Initially I was sad to see floor space diminish, as DVD rentals, vinyl, and CDs now had to share a relatively small space. However, Music Trader/Movie Village has done a good job of making the compromise work, mostly through providing a well curated selection of new and used CDs and vinyl. The store’s circular yellow sign is a fixture in Osborne Village.

Music Trader is probably my favourite record store in Winnipeg. For starters, I really appreciate their reasonable prices on new vinyl. New LPs accounts for 90% of my vinyl purchases, and it is common to walk into other record stores and see the same new releases priced $2-$6 higher. Second, the staff is really laid back, and really good about returns, accepting defective vinyl and giving you 30 days to make it back into the store to make a return. (Pressing plant quality control issues are the dark underbelly of the vinyl revival, so you want to make sure you shop at a store that has a good returns policy.) The place doesn’t have a snobby air about it, which I really appreciate. There are lots of candid Polaroid photos covering the walls, which gives it a palpable sense of community.

Third, Music Trader is open until 10pm, 7 days a week. This is awesome, because when it’s Sunday evening and everything’s closed, and you need a date night or just want to get out of the house, you can always head down to Music Trader.

Fourth, Music Trader also makes it easy to keep up with what’s in stock. Their Facebook page contains concert ticket and new release info, while their Instagram feed highlights used stock that’s just arrived. The CDs and vinyl are always well-organized, and if they don’t have something you want in stock, they can order it and have it to you in a week’s time (or less; they get 2 vinyl shipments each week). There’s also a loyalty card that’s worth getting if you buy a lot of used CDs. Finally, just around the corner from Music Trader, at 470 River Ave., is Little Sister Coffee, and you should definitely stop in there before your record browsing begins. But don’t blame me if you accidentally spend your record money on cinnamon buns and coffee brewing paraphernalia.

Any downside? Well, the parking situation isn’t great, but it’s more important to have record stores in pedestrian friendly areas. Besides, drivers can find free street parking by driving around the block. Or you can risk being towed and park in the Safeway/Starbucks lot. The thrill of wondering whether your car is being towed just heightens the excitement of record browsing.

Into the Music – 245 McDermot Ave.

Years ago, Into the Music was situated on Corydon Ave., but it moved first to Osborne Village and then to Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District, where it resides today. Some were sad about the moves, but the Exchange is plenty hip and pedestrian friendly. Besides, no need for all of the city’s record stores to be tightly clustered together. Spread the love!

Founded in July 1987, Into the Music is only 2 months older than I am. The place is considered an institution in the city, and by square footage it’s got to be the largest record store in the city. Its staff’s median age is older, so there’s wisdom there. Not all give off a vibe that says “I’m approachable,” but they’ve never been unhelpful when I’ve posed a question. The store maintains a good old fashioned website (remember those?), which they update regularly with new and used arrivals. There are listening stations for spinning that used CD or LP you just found, and they’re starting to expand their vinyl accessories and turntable sales as well. Everything is well-organized, and there are lots of little sections to explore that you may miss the first time through.

Unfortunately, the store’s vinyl prices are often disappointingly high. If a new release is priced at $21.95 at most record stores in the city, it’s almost always selling for $27.95 at Into the Music. Used vinyl prices are also high if the artist is anyone even relatively recognizable. Into the Music also stocks a lot of expensive reissues, and isn’t great at keeping up with many of the new indie releases that interest me. So while I like being in the store, I find myself browsing often but buying little beyond the occasional used CD. But the store does have a great used stock of Celtic, rap, and other genres that are under-represented at other stores. Their used books and magazines section is also pretty cool. Where else will you find a 1997 issue of Uncut, or a copy of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles? The coffee situation is also good. Into the Music is close to Parlour Coffee, at 468 Main St.

Folk Festival Music Store – 211 Bannatyne Ave.

The Folk Fest store is a 3 minute walk north from Into the Music, making it really handy to get to both stores in one afternoon. Their new vinyl prices are very reasonable, comparable to Music Trader’s. It’s staffed by a single person, so it’s only open 11-6, and it’s closed Sundays and Mondays. Unfortunately, the store sometimes opens up 10 minutes late, as I’ve discovered on three separate occasions when I arrived just after 11am. The staff doesn’t always check the store email address, so if you have a question, best to call.

If not for the hours drawback, Folk Fest could easily edge out Music Trader as my favourite record store. I wish I got here more often. It’s a beautiful space, located in an old red brick building with high ceilings and proper wood crates, sunlight streaming in the large front windows. No cellar vibe here. If you’re into rock, alternative, and folk (both traditional and modern), their selection is second to none in the city. Those with more diverse tastes in genres will have to supplement with other stores. This is the place to come to if you’re looking to get into an artist whose back catalog is intimidatingly large (e.g., Neil Young), as they’ll have lots different albums by an artist in stock. While their used section is small, their new selection is quite good, and includes some new LPs that are hard to find other places in the city. And of course, they stock all of the artists who have just been at, or are coming to, the venerable Winnipeg Folk Festival, which happens each and every July in Bird’s Hill Park.

McNally Robinson – 1120 Grant Ave.

As a bookstore that has slowed added a music section, McNally Robinson is the outlier on this list. Some may dismiss it because it’s a bookstore first and foremost, but to do so ignores what has become a unique vinyl collection in the city. Andy, a Winnipeg music store veteran, recently moved from the Folk Fest Store to McNally, and under his careful tutelage the music section has grown. A little heavy on expensive reissues and box sets, the selection is nevertheless pretty well-rounded, and demonstrates a good knowledge of music past and present. Canadian artists are foregrounded here, which is nice. McNally’s music section also features a fantastic shelf of concert DVDs, and they’re one of the few places in town that sells Blu-Ray audio, 5.1 mixes, and SACDs, so audiophiles should definitely check this place out. Of course, McNally is known first and foremost for its books, which extends to a great music books section. (May I recommend David Byrne’s How Music Works)

While I’m not normally one to endorse loyalty cards, you may want to consider McNally Reader Reward card, which entitles you to 10% off your purchases, and can save you a significant amount over a year’s worth of vinyl purchases. I think its annual renewal fee is $20, but considering you can save $2.50 on each record you purchase, it doesn’t take many purchases to earn back your money. The card is even good at McNally’s restaurant and to-go counter, where you can get a good cup of coffee and a delicious slice of key lime pie.

A perk of shopping at McNally is that they sometimes put new releases on shelves early. I’ve never seen this anywhere else. One Sunday afternoon browse scored me Bob Dylan’s most recent Bootleg Series release a full 2 days before its street date. So if, like me, you like to get new releases as soon as possible, it’s worth stopping by McNally on the off chance that one of the staff has put it out early.

In sum, there’s lots of fun to be had record shopping in Winnipeg. While each store has its pros and cons, none of them are worth skipping. While I have my favourites, I still like to shop around and get to know the logic behind what each store stocks. I should note that all of the above record shops do participate in Record Store Day, to varying degrees, including live in-store performances. With the possible exception of McNally Robinson, all are also great places to get tickets to gigs big and small, thereby diverting service fee profits from the evil corporate behemoth, Ticketmaster.

I hope you enjoy your time flipping through the bins. It’s freezing 8 months of the year here, so it’s good to find an indoor hobby. Now, I’m off to go pack for Folk Fest!

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