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.
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.