Last Shop Standing- The Best CD Store On Earth

Madison, Wisconsin based readers will surely agree with me that in its heydey, there was no classical CD shop on earth quite like The Exclusive Co. on State Street. The culmination of the long career of Charles Lunde, who spent 60 years in the classical record business in Madison, the Exclusive’s business model was simple- maintain the most enormous selection of classical music anywhere, all at the lowest prices around.

When Chuck was forced into retirement after a stroke a few years ago, we all feared the worst for this Madison institution. To their credit, the owners hired a bright manager who kept the standards pretty high for some time. Sadly, when I passed through Madison this week, the glory days were officially over. The classical and jazz stores, long tucked away in the nearly unfinished basement, had been brought up into the main store, and the inventories cut by about 80%. Sad, sad, sad. They’ve also done away with the discount system.

There are few stores left anywhere where a classical music lover can walk into a shop and find recordings and repertoire beyond the everyday, the corporate and the mundane. Most of the superstores like Tower and Virgin are gone or going, and few independent stores seem able to keep anything like enough stuff in stock to make them worth visiting. I used to track down the record store wherever I went, all over the world, and I have some amazing oddities and rarities as a result. Now it seems a waste of effort.

So, it was with nervous worry and a sense of mild dread that I made my way to Portland’s Classical Millennium. Long my second-favorite CD store, I feared they’d also gone the tiny-stock “we can order it for you if you want to pay more than online and make you wait for 3 weeks to come pick it up here rather than have it delivered to your house” route.

Not so!

I’m happy to report that their inventory is the biggest and the broadest it has ever been, with everything you can imagine, including new and used CDs, SACDS, DVDs and BluRay discs, as well as a vast array of LPs.

With just about everyone else everywhere else giving up in despair, it’s time to cheer on this place where they are still fighting the good fight.

Therefore, I am officially proclaiming Classical Millennium in Portland as

2009 View from the Podium Award Winner

Best Classical CD and DVD Store on Planet Earth.

They’ve got a good online presence, so I encourage readers who can’t stop by in person to use the mail-order business to support this bastion of excellence.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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6 comments on “Last Shop Standing- The Best CD Store On Earth”

  1. Foster Beyers

    The news about the Exclusive Company is sad indeed. I spent thousands of dollars there over the years buying things based on Charles reccomendation or pissing him him off with my apparent lack of taste. He was the only salesman ever to berate me for buying something he didn’t feel was up to his standards. The first time I went in there in High School I was looking for a recording of a Hovannes Symphony (a passing infatuation) I had heard on the radio. Charles growled at me “Give me the work, orchestra and conductor or I can’t help you!”

    Now that I am in Minneapolis, I thank my lucky stars for having Cheapo/Applause which still maintains a huge collection of classical CDs both new and used. It is literally the best store in the country. Better than anything I have seen in Chicago or New York. Only Ludwig Beck’s in Munich is better.

    RIP Exclusive Company basement.

  2. Greg Austin

    Foster, I second your Exclusive story and Cheapo story (are you the Foster who conducted GBYSO? I helped you once with auditions–Bridget just finished her GBSO tenure). My wife is from Minneapolis and her family still lives there, so I go with her brother on “Cheapo runs” where I drool over their selection of Classical, and I always find great stuff at used prices.

    I remember when Charles had his own CD shop on State Street, and my roomate (Kristian Svennevig) and I would go to shop there. Then he had a strange arrangement doing a half-and-half with, I believe, a video store or something, before he moved to the basement of Exclusive Co. We used to call him “Grouchy Chuck” in a fond way (not to his face), and always respected him. The last time I saw him I was looking for an out-of-print disc of Tylman Susato’s Dansereye played by the New London Consort with Philip Pickett. He actually gave me some hope and said “Now, don’t get your knickers in a twist” when he went looking in his rows for it, after which he didn’t find it and simply ignored me, but I was OK with that, knowing him.

    I haven’t been to Madison in a year, and last time I went the Exclusive classical/jazz store still were going strong in the unfinished basement. This is sad news, indeed. Aside from Cheapo, Exclusive was really my last bastion of in-store Classical. B-Side has (had?) some good avant-garde, but that’s it, really. I used to love record-hunting. One of my fondest memories is finding an out-of-print vinyl copy of “Gesang der Junglinge” and “Kontakte” by Karlheinz Stockhausen at Tower Records in Manhattan during my college years. Nowadays I shop the used marts at Amazon. Thanks for the link, Ken–I’ll check it out.

  3. Kenneth Woods

    Hey Greg!

    I may have been the one, or at least present, when we christened him “Grouchy Chuck” a term of great respect and endearment. Kristian Sv and I made quite a few trips there as well. I must have spent thousands and thousands there. The mind boggles…… Sad that it is all over.

  4. Foster Beyers

    Hey Greg and Ken,

    I am the Foster from GB and I do remember your help. Thank you. I heard about Bridget. Hope all is well with the GBSO.

    Also, thanks to Ken for the link. I ordered something already. It sounds like the kind of place we should all support.

  5. Erik K

    I wore that store out in the year and a half I lived in the Portland area. That place was like paradise on Earth.

    I’ll be venturing to Minneapolis for the first time in September…I must investigate this Cheapo being spoken of.

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