The return of the record store

When I was in high school, you could still buy music on campus. I know that this’ll give away my age, but I was super stoked my senior year to find Pink Floyd’s Pulse in excellent condition on cassette for something like 11 dollars at Record Swap when it was still between Fifth and Sixth on Green Street.

Record Swap moved to its current location on Race Street in downtown Urbana in 1999, and five years later Record Service, a campus staple for more than 30 years, shut down for good.

There are three independent record stores in CU, and none are on campus. So get out your bike or put some comfy shoes on and get ready for a walking tour of CU’s independent music shoppes.

For the sake of nostalgia, we’ll start at 621 E. Green, the carcass of the once great staple Record Service. No business has dared enter the sacred space, and has been empty since 2004. There may be a dirty old bum sleeping in the foyer, so feel free to start a few paces to the east, if you wish. We’re heading that way, anyway. Our first stop is the aforementioned Record Swap, down the street from the Urbana Free Library.

Record Swap
110 S. Race Street, Urbana
Hours: Mon-Thurs 10 a.m.-5 p.m.,
Fri 10 a.m.-5:30p.m., Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

The cardboard faces of Macy Gray and Elvis greet you as you walk into the oldest record store in CU. Along with used LPs, CDs and cassettes (ask your parents what cassettes are) Record Swap also sells incense, stickers, tee-shirts and accessories. Make sure you check out the box sets in the glass case as you walk in … the Johnny Cash box will make you drool.

Next, we head north past the Courier CafÇ into unfamiliar territory. Turn onto a little street called Griggs, and you’re almost to the indie music kingpin of Central Illinois, Parasol. On this leg of the journey, you will pass parking lots and the beginning of a residential area, and by the time you pass Wood Street, you’ll be pretty sure you’re lost. But don’t fret, you have almost arrived at Parasol’s giant red front door.

Parasol Records
303 W. Griggs Street, Urbana
Hours: Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat 12-5 p.m.

Inside, a path of yellow footprints lead you to the music section of the Pasasol retail store. Employee Roy Ewing said that most of Parasol’s business is mail order and distribution, but that in this age of dying record stores, “we encourage people to come in.” Parasol carries new and used vinyl and CDs from mosty independent artists. “But we do bring in major label stuff if it’s stuff we’re passionate about,” Ewing said. Parasol can also order almost anything for you, and carry a large selection of local music, from newer (The Living Blue) to retro (Hum). Check them out on the web at

Now we’re in it for the long haul. Our final stop is two miles west, in the heart of Downtown Champaign. The drive down University isn’t especially scenic, passing the rear of Beckman, two hospitals and that car wash whose roof got blown off during a crazy summer storm. You can cheat now, if you wish, and take the long way through campus on the Green bus line, or even save the Champaign trip for another day if your feet are tired.

Downtown Champaign is seething with local celebrities. A glimpse of the occasional television anchor going for coffee notwithstanding, in virtually every restaurant or coffee shop there is a local musician serving you in their day job; just your average barista with the shockingly gruff singing voice or the young waitress that serves you burgers by day but who plays a wicked cello at night.

Our final stop is in the shiny new One Main building, and is the newbie of the tour.

Exile on Main Street
1 (Yup, how’d you guess?) Main Street, Champaign
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun 12-6 p.m.

Truly a retro shop, from its perfect music nerd name to the stand-up video games near the front door, Exile on Main Street opened its doors in November 2004. Besides buying, selling and trading movies, music and video games, Exile also carries old LPs, magazines and also rents DVDs. The store is aptly named after owner Jeff Brandt’s favorite Stones album. Brandt believes that, while the record industry is “in turmoil,” there is still a market for music. “People still like buying stuff like this at stores rather than online,” he said.

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