Record store Flat, Black and Circular holds onto business during COVID-19

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With the rise of music streaming services and the continued use of CDs, one record store across the street  from the campus of Michigan State University, on East Grand River Avenue, continues to deliver anything flat, black and circular. 

“I go to Flat, Black, and Circular because it’s the only record store in East Lansing,” said frequent customer Matt Cruz. “But it also has the benefit of probably being one of my, if not my favorite, record stores in the entire state.”

Flat, Black & Circular has brought vinyl connoisseurs their much-needed music fix since it opened in 1977.  The store contains vinyl, CDs and cassettes from many genres and different parts of the world and was listed in a 2004 edition of Sports Illustrated as a “Top Ten Campus Indie Music Store.”

“The difference between us and an average chain is the diverse genres that we are getting here,” said manager Jon Howard. “We have a lot of world music and reggae, oddball and weird soundtracks. You can come in and get 12 records of 12 completely different kinds of music.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic creating uncertainty, Flat, Black and Circular has stayed afloat by cutting labor costs and increasing its  digital footprint.

“We’re definitely not super techno-savvy here, but when they first had the closedown, we were trying to do just online with what we had online. We didn’t list anymore of the store,” said Howard. “We were fortunately able to open again in June. I cut our hours down a little bit, shaving an hour off of our opening and closing, and I am pretty much running it by myself.”

Many small businesses rely on big events that bring in customers and Flat, Black & Circular is no different. The store is one of thousands nationwide that participates in the annual “Record Store Day.” Record Store Day has been broken up into two days this year, with tentative dates set for June 12 and July 17.  

“Record Store Day is not just about the releases that they put out, it is a huge day for us, and for everything in here,” said Howard. “It’s fun too, it’s kind of a party. We see people from out of town that we have not seen for a while that used to live here. That is basically our Christmas Day.”

Though the proximity to Michigan State University makes it an easy target for college music fiends, it is the wide musical variety that keeps customers coming back.

Mason Vore said, “For a somewhat small record store, it seems to have a wide array of music that also gives you the music that college kids are going to listen to. At times at record stores, it’s like some old people trying to just sell a bunch of classic rock, but it’s really cool to see that Flat, Black & Circular has a good selection of newer things as well.”  

Cruz said, “When I compare it to other record stores I have been to like Vertigo, UHF, and Found Sound. They’re all good, but it’s quality over quantity at Flat, Black & Circular. I don’t know how he does it, but he gets a lot of really good releases that a lot of stores would never pick up in their lives.”

For customers and managers alike, it is the love of music that has kept the doors at Flat, Black & Circular open for more than 40 years and it is this passion that keeps shelves stocked and customers happy. 

“We all do this because we love music and it is kind of to feed our habit of music, too,” said Howard. “We live and breathe this all the time. When we’re not working, we’re thinking about it. Our brains are full of this stuff.”

Cruz said, “There’s too much to say, I’ve bought so much stuff from them for such a good price. I can’t say enough about that record store. There usually is not a time where I go in and leave empty-handed.”

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