The Vinyl Tourist Visits Montréal
Montréal, Québec, has a diverse, multi-ethnic population and used record stores abound. Vinyl prices, along with restaurants and rooms, are typically half of what one would expect to pay south of the border. Although the Canadian dollar is worth about 70% of its US counterpart (for the latest exchange rate, visit the Universal Currency Converter), the price of compact discs, even allowing for the discounted currency, is still about the same as in the US.
If you're arriving from outside of Canada, the best way to exchange your money for "loonies," as the Canadian dollar is known (the reverse side of the $1 coin depicts a loon), is to use an ATM (automatic teller machine) at any downtown bank. Keep in mind that your receipt will be denominated in Canadian dollars ($CDN) and you'll have to contact your own bank back home to find out exactly how much your account was debited.
Fortunately for the Vinyl Tourist, record shops in Montréal's Centre-ville tend to be grouped together and, if you tire of walking, the Métro (subway), is an efficient way to travel from one neighborhood to another. The personnel at most shops speak both English and French and are used to accommodating customers who are only fluent in one language or the other.
But first, a note on Canadian and French pressings. Most of the product you find in Canada will, naturally enough, be manufactured locally and European pressings tend to come from France rather than the UK. Both tend to be made in smaller quantities and with greater care than the typical American record or CD. In fact, these pressings are often superior to their US counterpart and one should not be shy about giving the nod to the Canadian or French equivalent whenever there is a choice. To prove the point, try to find an original Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Sessions on the Latent Image label, or the more commonly available CD of Holly Cole's Don't Smoke In Bed, or any of the French Pathé Marconi classical releases. Look for US pressings in the "Import" section.
In January, 2000, Piotr Dubiel, a graphic designer from Ottawa and former resident of Montreal, was kind enough to add several shops which I overlooked. His recommendations and comments follow my own.
By the way, remember that Montréal has two commercial telephone directories: the English language Yellow Pages and the French language
Pages Jaune. While most listings are duplicated, many are exclusive
only to one or the other. Look under records in the English edition, disques in the French.
In need of a local map? Try Google Maps.
Finally, if you haven't done so already, please read the Vinyl Tourist's Caveat.
- Marché du Disque
793, Mont-Royal Est (Mount Royal East)
For many years, this was my number one record store in Montréal. Recently, there has been a revival in high quality vinyl retail outlets in this city, but Marché du Disque is still a top venue for the collector. Don't be fooled by the stock on the ground level, which is mostly (new) remaindered disco, bad rock, and the Québécois equivalent of Euro-trash. Go upstairs where the real action is! Just about every genre is represented, the vast stock is alphabetized by artist, and most records are in good+ to like-new condition. Prices are average: $5 - $10 CDN. More for really rare stuff. The only store I've ever visited with a bin divider for Klaus Nomi.
L'Échange on St.-Denis used to have an excellent selection of used jazz, pop, and French import classical records, but these have all but disappeared in favor of compact discs.
- Encore Books and Records
Owner Sean Madden writes, "I just opened a record/book store in Montreal in the N.D.G. The name is ENCORE and we sell Vinyl LPs, turntables, and some hi-fi stuff, as well as books. We don't really have a specialty, but i just bought a couple thousand jazz lp's."
- Cheap Thrills
Métro: Peel or Bonaventure
Cheap Thrills hasn't been the same since they closed their store on Bishop. The remaining shop on Metcalfe has a large CD collection and fairly small LP stock, though they still have new releases on vinyl.
- Le Free-Son
1477, Mont Royal Est
Both stores have a clean, modern feel to them and feature good selections of used and new items in all formats, and are especially strong in musique d'Québec. May I suggest
Laurence Jalbert's self-titled album? (Her work is a must for
Judy Collins' fans.) But, of course!
- Le Pick-Up
169, avenue des Pins Est
Denis, the owner's English is limited, but there is a excellent selection of American and European pop and new wave recordings. Here I found a mint copy of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, the Canada-only pink-marbled vinyl edition, for $20 CDN (at the time, it typically sold in the US for $75). And to complete the coup, I was able to replace the slightly soiled cover for $2 with a perfect one from Le Coliseé (sadly, now defunct).
Collector Piotr Dubiel writes: "One more comment about Le Pick-Up. Denis is a pretty serious collector and I see him at record shows all the time. He specializes in French/French-Canadian chanson and psychedelia, and some of his 'not-in-the-racks' stock is formidable. My eyes widened considerably the first time I ever went in there and asked him about a few records I was looking for, only to have him go in the back and pull out his 'special crate'. :-)"
- L'Aller Retour
372, St-Catherine Ouest (St. Catherine West)
Métro: McGill or Saint-Laurent
Located on the second floor of an arcade building, this hip shop's selections lean towards 12" techno and dance singles and 60's thru 80's rock, respectively.
- Odyssey Books
1439 rue Stanley (south of Sherbrooke)
Primarily an antiquarian bookshop, Odyssey also carries classical records, American pressings, plus some Canadian and French imports. Not a huge selection, but about 10-12 shelves worth. A coreespondent writes, "I picked up a London Blueback 3 record set of Handel's Organ Concertos for $20 Canadian, and a Decca Speakers Corner Debussy Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun SXL2312 for 39.95 Canadian, sealed."
207 rue Bernard O.
Métro: Bernard / de l'Esplanade
Recently relocated to larger, brighter quarters, this is a new shop that I have yet to visit. Owner Nathan Gage writes, "We specialize in Indie and Classic Rock, Experimental, Jazz, Blues and International music."
- Death of Vinyl
6307 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Métro: Beaubien or de Bellchasse
A correspondent wrote to say that this is "definitely the best Vinyl store in Montreal." I have yet to pay a visit, but it may be worth taking a chance.
Guest Tourist Piotr Dubiel adds the following (with his own comments):
3828, rue St-Denis
Collector Piotr Dubiel writes, "A visit to Montreal can't be complete without going to Primitive. They recently expanded into the shop beside them, which means you no longer need to be thinner than 5" to get around their aisles (though it is still cramped). Here you can find everything, with a strong emphasis on '60s music, punk and garage, and a few modern jazz goodies. Prices vary and conditions can sometimes be abominable, but they seem to be the 'in' place for a lot of stuff and so a lot of it comes through. A hipster's delight! Some weird stuff passes through there, so it is worth checking out as well."
3770, rue Saint-Denis
Piotr Dubiel writes, "Beatnick is run by someone who must be a psych collector, as the psych section is usually well stocked, and there were a couple of raries priced at CDN$800 and CDN$1200 on the wall behind the counter at one time. A well stocked and reasonably priced (monster rarities notwithstanding), with a lot of '60s albums lurking around. Also quite clean and the records are nicely displayed and often bagged. Very nice place. I never walk out empty-handed."
819, Mont-Royal E
Piotr Dubiel writes, "A small hole in the wall near the L'Echange on Mont-Royal, but sometimes treasures appear there. When they do, they are very well priced -- at least in my experience. Picked up some Malicorne records I needed for about CDN$3-4 each."
- Aux 33 Tours
1379, Mont-Royal E
Guillaume, the manager, writes: "We are located 10 minutes east of the Mont-Royal Metro. We carry a wide selection of both used and new LPs. We've been open since April 2007 and I can say without hesitation that we are the fastest-growing record shop in Montreal right now. We have tens of thousands of LPs in stock, with literally hundreds of new arrivals every week. Our New Arrivals section alone takes up 8 rows! The items listed on our website represent only a small fraction of what we have in store (our online inventory is mostly rare singles). We carry pretty much all genres, from jazz to reggae to electronica to rock and beyond... We also specialize in Japanese pressings, so audiophiles should definitely check us out."
63E, ave Donegani
Located just west of the Trudeau International Airport, a correspondent writes, "This is an excellent vinyl store on West-island. I went through all stores on the Vinyl Tourist list for some audio system test records. None of them had one. But this one sold me 10 different types of them."
- Sound Central
4486, rue Coloniale
A (mostly) metal/punk/hardcore music store at 4486 Coloniale, just south of Mont-Royal.
- Les Disques Phoenix
230, rue Rachel E
A new store (in 2011) on the Plateau Mont-Royal.
- Mem Records
1379, Mont-Royal E
The owner (Pete) wrote to say that this is "a 2,000 sq foot record and cd shop with over 20,000 LPs upstairs with all music styles covered, including 2,000 Japanese pressing LPs for audiophiles."
But wait! There's more! From the Montreal Mirror's Annual Student Survival Guide:
A touchstone for musicians and scenesters looking to upgrade their collection with new, used and rare discs.
5018, Sherbrooke W
Alternative, classical and jazz specialist, has some hidden treasures.
- Mojo Disques-Records
Another new place. To be visited.
Last Update: May 2012