When the Sam Goody store at Horton Plaza closed last year, the last lingering reminder of the chain-record-store era was erased from San Diego. And depending on whom you ask, this might be a good thing. But that doesn't mean record shoppers are doomed to Best Buy to pick up some fresh, new sounds.
Just head on over to M-Theory Music in Mission Hills (915 W. Washington St.)—you can spot it by the cosmic, psychedelic mural on its west wall—to treat yourself to a proper independent-record-store experience, complete with an ample supply of new and used vinyl.
M-Theory is second to none in town when it comes to new albums. And patrons know it—if I had a dime for every time another record nerd beat me by 15 minutes to pick up a hotly anticipated release on a Tuesday afternoon, I could at least afford an extra, fancy colored 7-inch single. As is the case with many indie record shops, M-Theory specializes in alternative and indie music, but its hip-hop and electronic selections are also well-stocked. As used selection goes, you're also likely to find quite a few obscure gems, which are sometimes announced on Facebook.
The shop also regularly participates in annual Record Store Day events (get there early!) and recently had its first Cassette Store Day celebration, not to mention the impressive list of live in-store performances it books. All in all, M-Theory is a great, all-purpose, friendly and reliable record haunt.
But if you're looking for a slightly more advanced dive down a vintage-vinyl rabbit hole, there's another option just a little down the road. Hillcrest's Record City (3757 Sixth Ave.) opened more than a decade ago as one of the few record shops in town that dedicated its ample shelf space almost exclusively to LPs. Over time, the shop added CDs and DVDs—and you can still find some interesting stuff in those racks—but vinyl remains its bread and butter.
Record City is a haven for vinyl aficionados. Its rock, pop, soul, punk / alternative, country and jazz sections are all immaculately organized and amply stocked with gently used audible treats. The better the condition, and the rarer the find, the higher the price might be, but you'll always get your money's worth. Most used LPs are in the $10 range, though be careful—it's easy to see that stack of vinyl get taller and taller before you're out the door. And if you find something a little further south of mint condition—as I did with a $2 copy of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours—the price goes down but the listening value stays pretty high.
The new selection isn't quite as massive but is essentially 100-percent crap-free. And the staff is knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, and likely to give you some free conversation with your purchase.
The winner: Tough call, but Record City just barely edges out its competition thanks to the massive used selection.