Independent Record Stores in Milwaukee

Whether you want a new release from your favourite prog-rockers or a little-known slice of vinyl hip-hop, Milwaukee has an independent record store that will meet your needs. With character-filled shops like these four, there’s no reason to visit large retailers for your music. And if you’re even slightly outside the mainstream musically, then these are the only places in Milwaukee that will have your sound on the racks.

1. Atomic Records
1813 E. Locust St.
Milwaukee, WI
Accessible from MCTS Bus Routes 15 and 22.

As their many T-shirts and bumper stickers around Milwaukee demonstrate, Atomic Records is probably the premier independent record store in Milwaukee. Located southwest of the UWM campus, near the intersection of Locust Street and Oakland Avenue, Atomic’s black-and-yellow storefront is reminiscent of shops in New York’s East Village – gritty but approachable. With a knowledgeable, eccentric staff of music geeks, Atomic is the place to look for both obscure and mainstream music in Milwaukee.

You can purchase used CDs, place special orders by leaving a small deposit, and even sell your own CDs for cash or in-store credit (you’ll get a little extra if you choose the latter). New music emails come out every week, so you can stay updated on releases you’ve been waiting for. If they’re not excessively busy, the kind folks at Atomic will let you listen to a CD before purchasing it, since all the discs are kept behind the counter. Atomic Records, for a distinctly non-chain place, has a very can-do, customer-oriented attitude. They’ll even hold items for a couple days if you ask. And they support the local scene in Milwaukee by allowing musicians to consign CDs. A final reason to visit Atomic: they’ll often give you a sampler/demo CD or other free stuff if you make a purchase.

2. Rush-Mor Records
2660 S. Kinnickinnic St.
Milwaukee, WI 53207
Accessible from MCTS Bus Route 15.

Open long before Bayview was a cool neighborhood, Rush-Mor Records has been a place for Milwaukee’s serious music buyers since the 1970s. Like all great record stores, Rush-Mor offers an extensive array in a slightly dingy setting. They’re bound to carry music you’ve never heard of, and if it’s not there, they’ll order it for you. The vibe is a little more elitist than Atomic, reflecting its distance from the UWM college crowd. Rush-Mor has a loyal following, however, and the selection is broader and deeper than Atomic’s when it comes to the underground scene.

3. The Exclusive Co.
1669 N. Farwell Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Accessible from MCTS Bus Routes 15 and 30.

Just off of Brady Street you’ll find a relatively large store with a well-balanced selection: Exclusive Co. With remarkably low prices, especially on new releases, this place even outdoes the likes of some giant retailers when it comes to cost. You’ll also save a little extra if you pay in cash instead of with a credit card, so visit an ATM before stopping in. Part of an area chain, Exclusive is a good generalist store for CDs, but their vinyl section is more limited. The staff are helpful if you have a question. Don’t expect folks as buoyantly quirky as the Atomic staff.

4. Lotus Land
801 E. Center St.
Milwaukee, WI 53217
Accessible from MCTS Bus Routes 22, 10, and 14.

In the heart of the offbeat artist enclave of Riverwest, not far from the well-known Fuel CafÃ?©, you’ll find Lotus Land, Milwaukee’s place for vinyl. While you can purchase CDs here as well, this store caters to those who prefer records. The hip-hop section is especially large, so this is the spot to beef up your collection with the genre’s roots. Lotus is also home to a substantial international collection, thanks in part to the regular travel of the record-spinning owners. If you’re a DJ and want to buy music from other DJs, come visit this Riverwest vinyl haven.

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