Flat, Black & Circular, a long-established record store, was one of the many businesses deemed non-essential during Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s original stay at home orders and had no choice but to close the doors. Now the business is back, ready to bring joy through fresh tunes.
Flat, Black & Circular, or “FBC” as it’s more affectionately called, was founded by Dick Rosemont and Dave Bernath in East Lansing in 1977. A few moves and many renovations later, the store still remains in the upstairs of the Campus Town Mall at 541 East Grand River. FBC specializes in new and used records, CDs, DVDs, vintage stereo equipment, and books and magazines pertaining to music.
The store reopened to the public June 8. Manager Jon Howard, who’s been an employee at FBC since 1994, reflects on his time off during the pandemic.
“I was off for two and a half months, and it was a mix of relaxation and torture,” Howard said. “I missed working and getting out of the house. Got lots done around the house at least. Read a bunch of books, watched Netflix, and played a lot of guitar. Had some days where I was just depressed as hell about this though.”
Today, Dick Bernath is the sole owner of the record store after Rosemont moved to New Mexico a few years ago. Although the store is well established and is able to weather the pandemic financially, necessity of product remains a concern.
“At least for this amount of time we could float,” Howard said. “A few months more might have hurt bad. The worry was about people being in the mood to shop for things that aren’t a necessity.”
FBC received a grant from the city, which Howard said went mostly to rent. The shop also sold some records and CDs on the popular online music site, Discogs. However, the inventory inside is where the money is.
As with most businesses, the pandemic has changed the way stores conduct business and interact with the public. The same applies to FBC, and Howard said he’s been vigilant in making sure customers follow the established guidelines.
“We have been following the research as it develops, and face-to-face contact is the riskiest,” Howard said. “We aren’t that concerned with catching it from surfaces. We are keeping masked up, and almost all the customers have as well. We got stocked with wipes and hand sanitizer for customers. We hope people are sneezing in their own arm.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also curtailed such events as Record Store Day, a worldwide event to celebrate independent record stores. That was slated to happen April 20 and was subsequently canceled. However, the event will now be spread across three dates: August 29, September 26, and October 24, 2020.
A fourth date, Record Store Day on Black Friday, is still scheduled for November 27. Each date will feature unique releases from artists and bands, including a 50th anniversary reissue of Paul McCartney’s debut album, “McCartney.”
Record Store Day has been a bread and butter event for FBC, which often features food and live bands. While Howard was bummed the April date was canceled, he’s looking forward to celebrating the other four.
“I’m looking forward to Record Store Day,” Howard said. “We will treat each one like it’s one big Record Store Day.”
Fervent record collector and Lansing-based musician John Olson was all too happy for the store to reopen. Olson has been back to shop since the store reopened.
Olson is a longtime fixture of the East Lansing music scene, and a member of the popular international noise act, Wolf Eyes. Olson hosts a podcast with journalist Rich Tupica called “Rich and Johnny’s Inzane Podcast,” which focuses on obscure Michigan music from all eras.
“Three months of non-dollar-bin FBC living is the lowest living besides not [living] at all,” Olson said.
FBC is popular for its $1 record bin, where one could shop and leave with quite the collection for a reasonable price.
Olson is not alone, as some customers have returned, but not at the pace Howard was anticipating. Still, he’s happy with the turnout thus far.
“It has been as busy as we expected,” Howard said. “Summertime with no students, and with the virus still out there, we were not expecting a huge rush. It has been pretty darn good, and we are still getting phone calls constantly to check if we reopened. Word is still getting out.”