Vinyl is booming in Toronto. Record shops have popped up all over the city to serve a new generation of record buyers as the format becomes popular again, but fans of classical music might be feeling a little left out of the resurgence. The new shops carry everything from folk to electronica to hip-hop, but in many of them, the classical “section” amounts to a single milk crate on the floor near the back.
Perhaps this has to do with the image; record stores thrive on appearing hip, and walking out with a seminal recording of a cantata or quintet isn’t exactly cool. It’s also a reflection of wider trends: around the world, classical music buyers remain staunchly committed to the CD format (when they don’t buy downloads) while fans of other genres are gradually making a move to vinyl. And some argue that classical’s greater dynamic range makes it better suited for the less noisy CD format anyway.
But the tactile experience of vinyl is as much a draw for classical listeners as it is for those of other genres. And though labels aren’t producing much new classical vinyl these days, there is a whole ecosystem of used classical vinyl floating about, certainly enough to stock a couple of stores.
Unfortunately, the two best shops for used classical vinyl in the city closed in 2016. Amoroso Records and Around Again Records were both well-loved for their great selection of classical and jazz records, as well as their friendly service. Their closures have left a big gap in the Toronto market.
Paradise Bound is one store trying to fill the void. The shop has been in business in Kensington Market for 16 years, and now that Amoroso and Around Again have closed, it has one of the best selections of used classical vinyl in the city.
“A lot of the people who used to shop at Amoroso and Around Again are very happy when they discover my shop,” says Paradise Bound owner Grey Coyote.
Ask Coyote to be let in to the “Bach Hall,” and he’ll unlock a door leading you to a dark hallway with well over a thousand LPs, and he’ll provide a flashlight to help you scan the record spines. The Mozart section alone takes up a couple of feet.
While classical isn’t their specialty, Kops Records (especially the Queen St. West location) is another store with a decent stash of classical LPs. Their collection isn’t extensive by any measure, and it isn’t kept in order, but at $2.99 each or five for $10, Kops is your best chance in town to find a serious bargain. Discovery Records, in Leslieville, is one more option. They pride themselves on the quality of their vinyl, and you can browse some of their selection online.
If you’re looking for new vinyl, you might find something at Sonic Boom!, but their selection is limited. You’ll have better luck at L’atelier Grigorian, which is the best destination if you’re looking for CDs, but again, the vinyl selection there is small.
These stores may be enough to get your collection started, but Toronto would benefit from more used record stores dedicated to stocking classical. Coyote, the owner of Paradise Bound, says that selling used classical records requires more knowledge and experience than other genres. It’s taken him more than a decade to learn what soloists, labels, recordings, and composers are in demand, he says. That might be why there are so few stores that specialize in classical in the city.
The pressures that put Amoroso and Around Again out of business might suggest there isn’t a strong enough market for used classical vinyl, but shops manage to make a go of it in other cities around the world, and with fans of every other genre catching on to the joys of vinyl, it might be time for classical to catch up.