Record Shopping

If you’re going on an out-of-town record shopping expedition, Astoria is unlikely to draw your attention. Yelp only lists a single music store, the unappealingly named Bach & Rock, and some of the reviews are likely to give you pause or strike you as unreliably over-the-top. Google isn't much better. A search for "Astoria Oregon record store" is topped by a Yellow Pages link with three listings: a Barnes and Noble, a guitar shop in Seaside, and The Bent Needle, which sounds promising but which is actually an embroidery shop catering to the Coast Guard base in Tongue Point. The second listing gives you Christie's Mallternative, which we'll get to below, and the third link is the Yelp Page for Bach & Rock. The rest is pretty standard irrelevant crap.

Astoria does have a decent vein of vinyl that you can mine effectively if you know how to look for it, but you need to go off the grid for this one. So hit the ATM, get on US 30 going west, and prepare to dig through Astoria for some great additions to your record collection. 

When you hit town, your first stop should be the Bach & Rock (corner of 16th and Marine Drive). Yelp is as misleading here as Yelp gets, both in the positive and negative directions. This place is consummately Pacific Northwest, and it's worth blocking out some time because it's not only full of great records in many genres, it's a genuine personal experience. Part music & video store, part head shop, part pet rescue, part tropical jungle, and part espresso stand, the Bach & Rock just may be the strangest business you've ever entered.

If you're a serious buyer, you should probably get lunch before you wade in. A good place to fuel up is right across the street at Bowpicker Fish & Chips, a food cart housed in a converted gillnet boat. The hours are erratic, but their twitter feed always has the latest open times. If the Bowpicker isn't open, head over to the Fort George Brewery (15th and Duane) for lunch and some beer.

Now it's back over to Bach & Rock. Take your time and do it right. The records are scattered around, but they're extremely if somewhat idiosyncratically organized. When you're finally done here, you might think the whole trip to Astoria has already been worth it just for the one record store listed on Yelp. There's more out there, but now you're going to have to do the real digging.

Get ready by checking in to the hotel and taking some time to rest up and look over your first load of goods. Once you're refreshed, get re-energized with an afternoon coffee. Head down to the lobby and grab something from Street 14 Coffee before venturing out again.

Next make your way to Christie's Mallternative (1167 Marine Drive), another rich supply of vinyl. There's a small display of records near the front that you should check out, but don't think this is all. Head around the counter and between piles of audio equipment to the back room, which is where you'll find the mother lode. The collection is large but a bit less organized than Bach & Rock, so you'll have to be more intuitive about your approach. 

Your next stop is yet one more step into disorganization―this is Garbo's Vintage (1160 Commercial Street), where you'll have to dig around a store packed with vintage clothes, shoes, and bric-a-brac looking for the boxes of records stashed in various places, mostly down low. The quality here varies, but the prices are good, and patience will bring you some great finds.

When you’ve completed your rounds, it’s time to head to the Astoria Coffeehouse and Bistro for a cocktail and some food. This place has great seafood and some of the most swimming-pool-sized drinks you've ever seen. Drink up. You've done a full day's work bulking up your record collection. Have a second drink and plan for an early night. Two of these martinis will send you dazed back to the hotel, where you should grab a DVD from the front desk and spend the rest of the night in bed watching an old movie from the hotel's well-curated selection. This is the way to end a day of hardcore record shopping.

Use the next morning as a mop-up operation. First get a light breakfast at Street 14 Coffee, then make a quick run through the downtown thrift stores. There's a lot of crap (like in most thrift stores), but there are also some hidden gems (like in most thrift stores). Old Things & Objects (10th and Commercial Streets) has the biggest supply and is most likely to offer up the best finds.

If it's Saturday or Sunday, and only if it's Saturday or Sunday, head over to Commercial Astoria (1269 Commercial Street) before leaving town. This shop is run by a couple from Portland―he's a radio personality, she's a high school teacher, design/makeup artist, and tarot reader―who commute out to Astoria every week to staff this enterprise that's obviously heavier on passion than on business plan. That's exactly the kind of place you want to finish up your guerrilla record shopping expedition, but if it's not a weekend, you can always take one more run at Mallternative or Bach & Rock to see what you might've left behind the day before.