Throw a rock anywhere in this city and you're bound to hit a record shop. Montreal is a crate digger's paradise with more vinyl than you can possibly carry, and the gems are ripe for the picking if you know where to look. Starting downtown near McGill University, and heading all the way over to the nether regions of Montreal's east end, check out my picks for the best vinyl destinations in the 514—or 438, if you're modern that way.
Aux 33 Tours (1373 Mont-Royal E.)
This is the perfect shop for beginner record collectors, as it offers a wide variety of genres and several neat rows of new and used records to flip through. Seasoned collectors will also want to check out the new arrivals at Aux 33 Tours, where there are always rare records to be found, and fans of quality pressings will definitely want to hit this place, as it is the only shop in town that specializes in 100% virgin vinyl imported directly from Japan. The store restocks their inventory on a regular basis too, so be sure to go often! Notable dig: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy (on Def Jam).
Beatnick (3770 Saint-Denis)
Beatnick is a spectacular shop with the largest selection of '60s vinyl in the city, in fact, there is a giant back room devoted to it—country fans, there's a secret back-back room just for you too! You will find shelves upon shelves of 45s, an amazing soul selection, and plenty of records by current artists. Beatnick also carries CDs for music lovers who prefer that medium. The best thing about this store is the owner, Nick Catalano. Nick remembers exactly what his customers want, and he'll put stuff aside for you when it finally comes in. Notable dig: An original pressing of Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones, complete with a working zipper!.
Cheap Thrills (2044 Metcalfe)
Founded in 1972, Cheap Thrills is Montreal's oldest, dearest, and cheapest record shop. Really, their prices are hard to beat! This is a student's paradise, and just minutes away from McGill University. As you dig through all the metal and punk records in their amazing used section, witness the film High Fidelity with John Cusack come to life, complete with grumpy record store clerks who aren't so grumpy once you get to know them. For those who like to read, Cheap Thrills also has tons of books to discover. Notable dig: A near-mint copy of Tyrants of Teen Trash by the Gruesomes.
La Fin du Vinyle / Death of Vinyl (6307 Saint-Laurent)
Death of Vinyl is exactly where you want to go if you really love to dig. Expect to spend hours in this giant loft literally packed from floor to ceiling with over 50,000 used records. The shop will shock and surprise you with its great selection of hip hop, house, and dance; many local DJs hit Death of Vinyl to find 12-inch remixes to sample and spin. There's also a spot in the store that sells and repairs vintage and used turntables, amps, and speakers. Notable dig: Buenos Dias Jesus by My Dog Popper.
L'Oblique (4333 Rivard)
That Godspeed You! Black Emperor record you wanted is just waiting for you over at L'Oblique! In fact, the shop has an entire section devoted to albums by local experimental and post-rock bands, plus a nice selection of CDs, 7-inch EPs, and some old 45s if that is your flavour. There are also concert tickets for sale, and L'Oblique logo t-shirts in an array of colours. Notable dig: Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements by Stereolab.
Paul's Boutique (112 Mont-Royal E.)
Paul's Boutique, named after one of the best Beastie Boys albums ever, is a crooked little yellow house located in the heart of plateau Montreal. The shop is literally packed to the eyeballs with rare finds, albums by local garage rock acts, and lots of vintage band posters and memorabilia to look at. Come for the gritty atmosphere and the records, but stay for the drama between the locals who hang out at the shop. Take note that Paul's Boutique opens at random hours during the week, so your best bet is to visit on Saturdays in the mid-afternoon. Notable dig: the SuperFunkPresents FunkSoulSisters compilation.
Phonopolis (207 Bernard O.)
The selection at Phonopolis is robust and not too overwhelming, with a great mixture of obscure artists and classic bands. You'll also find the finest world music section at this shop, thoughtfully curated and chock full of amazing artists from Nigeria, Zambia, and basically every other African country you can imagine. Phonopolis carries many eclectic and reissue labels too, including Sacred Bones, Numero Group, and Luaka Bop. Notable dig: World Psychedelic Classics – 5: Who is William Onyeabor? by William Onyeabor.
Le Pick Up (169 des Pins E.)
There's a block on avenue des Pins east of Saint-Laurent that houses some fine indie-shops run by small-business owners. Here you can get a snappy new asymmetric hair cut at Salon Identité whilst feasting on yummy vegan treats from Sophie Sucrée, and when you're done, be sure to head next door to Le Pick Up and grab some tunes! This shop has a great selection of records from the '80s and '90s with prices that won't break the bank. Notable dig: All the Time, All the Time, All the Time by The Box.
Sonik (4050 Berri)
Where did all the old punks go? Well, they grew up and opened a little record shop in the plateau called Sonik. This store is the top vinyl destination in Montreal for punk, garage, psych, post-punk, and everything in between. There's also a little jazz section to shift through, and several other gems to be found. Bring cash! They don't have Interac or take credit cards. Notable dig: Sell Out Young! by The Nils.
Sonorama (260 Bernard O.)
Indeed, Sonorama has a lot of 12-inch LPs for you to flip through, but the real reason to hit this shop is to dig through their huge selection of 45s varying from funk, soul, disco, pop, punk, garage, rap and hip hop, to good ol' rock n roll. Run by record collectors, for record collectors, the knowledgeable staff is always willing to help you find that rare psych record from the '60s, and as an added bonus, there are two turntables set up by the windows so you can listen before you buy. Notable dig: "There's a Red-Neck in the Soul Band" b/w "Just One Step" by Latimore (on Glades).
Sound Central (4486 Coloniale)
Among the rows of obscure punk 7-inches and really cool film soundtracks on vinyl, you will find plenty of other great stuff at Sound Central. Bring back cocktail hour and pick up some kitsch or Tiki statues for your living room bar, they'll go great with that Herb Alpert record you just found. Want to feel like a kid again? Just grab a record by The Jackson 5 and play with those vintage toys also available for sale at the shop. Better yet, have a coffee with Sean and ask him to tell you stories about what went on in the Montreal music scene back when you were a zygote. Sound Central really makes a person feel like part of a family. There are live performances almost every weekend too! Notable dig: The Blood of Others by Witches of God.
A Little Bird Told Me...
Shhh… here's a secret digging spot no one knows about: Tucked away in Montreal's Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district in the east end is Da Muzz (4927 Sainte-Catherine E.). A little bird told us that this shop is full of gems on vinyl and cassette!
BONUS: Record Shopping Tips
1) Go for the blind buy. Sometimes you really can judge a record by its cover, and if it has a woman dressed as a birthday cake, well you just know that the music has got to be awesome.
2) Check Discogs. The market drives the value, and sometimes record vendors have delusions of grandeur. Make sure you're armed with an iPhone or Android device and see what the record is really going for before you buy.
3) Condition, condition, condition! Used records are indeed used, so you're going to want to open those babies up and have a look inside. Better yet, take the records out and check for signs of wear, deep scratches, and warping. If a record isn't shiny and flat, chances are your turntable will eat it.
3) Carry a heavy canvas tote bag. You're going to need a strong sack to transport all those records home, and you'll help the environment at the same time!
4) Bring cash. Some stores offer discounts or knock off the sales tax for repeat customers who pay with real dollars.
5) Support local artists and labels. When you're finished digging through crates at your favourite indie record shop, head on out to the nearest venue and catch a show by a Montreal band! Throw down 5$ for a cool limited-edition 7" while you're at it, they'll appreciate the love.