Best Record Store: Small, sleek, and hospitable
First, forget that Hear Music is a chain. Second, forget it's owned by Starbucks, the mama of all chains. Now get ready for the most delightful music buying experience ever. Housed in a sleek, clean, and diminutive space, Hear Music is the perfect place to discover that you might actually enjoy funk, punk, or ska. Divided into musical genres ranging from Celtic to spoken word to electronica, there are more than forty listening stations scattered throughout, each featuring eight CDs chosen by the ultra-chill employees. According to its Web site, the Berkeley store "places a premium on exploration and discovery." And if the CD you're eyeing is not part of a listening dock, the store will open it and let you listen without purchasing. Not only does the store carry all the current popular releases and soundtracks, it also creates its own buzz. Hear Music offers CDs featuring a collection of songs chosen by famous artists -- consider it the ultimate mixtape. Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Yo-Yo Ma, and Norah Jones are just a few of the many musicians asked to select songs that inspired them throughout their lives. If you're not into the impersonally large music megastores, Hear Music is the ideal place to find tunes that inspire.