Straddling that fine line between having too many albums and having way too many albums, Liberty Street’s Encore Records has been serving Ann Arbor’s music snobs since 1991. Nestled unassumingly in a small storefront, a trip across the threshold reveals a crowded cubby of aural treasures. Though navigating the circuitous shelving units can be like mapping your way through the Grad Library stacks, the rewards are far more grand: the store deals almost exclusively in used material, offering the patient customer a seemingly endless selection.
The collection of CD’s is impressive: the pop-rock section is hit or miss, but persistence usually yields at least a few gems. Classic rock and one-hit wonders are sure bets, but anything else depends on the visit. Less popular genres – bluegrass, blues and electronic – are less picked-over, and as a result, offer rewards to the discerning fan.
The store’s commitment to local music is impressive, as they shelve dozens of local bands for reasonable prices. Often, the best finds – in any genre – are made at the counter, where excess stock is stacked three feet high. Patience is essential, but gleaning these towers of overlooked merchandise can often be more effective than hours spent in the shelves.
As remarkable as the CD collection is, it pales in comparison to the vinyl. Towards the back of the store, where most of the old records are stored, you can usually find the music hermits: ragamuffins who search endlessly for obscure records twice as old and three times as valuable as your car.
Navigating the bins can be a chore, and for the most professional record seekers, afternoons often yield nothing more than filthy hands. But oh, the selection: there’s an endless amount of classical, rock and blues to look over, and those looking to sweeten their collection will rarely leave empty handed. For the casual customer, an afternoon spent perusing the vinyl with friends can be cheaper and more entertaining than Main Street.
For those too cowardly – or claustrophobic – to brave the bins at Encore, Ann Arbor does have alternatives. Wazoo provides a more concrete selection, and it remains the destination of choice for those seeking underground rock’s newest sounds. Those with less eclectic tastes – and a little more cash – can peruse the collections of Schoolkids or even Borders. For serious collectors, however, only the treasure trove of Encore offers the right mix of price, selection, and potluck thrill. Happy hunting.