If millennials and baby boomers can agree on one thing, it’s that music sounds better when it’s played on vinyl. Over the last decade, vinyl album sales have exploded thanks in part to those two demographics, reviving an all but obsolete media format and creating an opportunity for a new wave of retailers. Now REO Town is getting in on the action, as a 9-year-old East Lansing business, the Record Lounge, relocated to a vacant storefront in the burgeoning neighborhood last week.
“I’d been here for (annual music and art festival) Art Attack, but I’d never really spent much time in REO Town before I decided to move here,” said Record Lounge owner/operator Heather Frarey. “And so far the people have been very welcoming. It’s a totally different vibe from East Lansing. Here, it’s all about small business owners who stick together.”
But that move wasn’t voluntary. Last week, Frarey was evicted from her location at 111 Division St. in downtown East Lansing after a rent disagreement with Cron Management, which manages the property. For years, Frarey had paid her rent to the State News, which owns the building, and said that a misunderstanding among the three parties led to a discrepancy of over $4,000 in unpaid rent and court costs since last fall.
“I was by no means a model tenant, but I don’t think I needed to be treated like that,” Frarey said. “To be evicted after nine years and have only two days to get everything out was extremely difficult. I feel this could have been handled much better by them. How do you move a whole store in two days?”
Frarey, 53, said that until last November, she paid her rent directly to State News general manager Marty Sturgeon but was informed that Cron Management was taking over the property management of the building due to the influx of new businesses, including Panda Express and Blaze Pizza. She said it all started with a rent check that went unbanked for three weeks, during which time she made a quarterly sales tax payment.
“When they finally cashed the check, the funds weren’t there, and everything fell apart from there,” Frarey said. “I was out of town when it happened, and when I got back, I thought I could handle this on my own. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my husband, what was going on. I was scared. There was a lot of stress on my shoulders.”
Frarey said she thought she had successfully dug herself out of her hole, but claims she mistakenly forgot to pay a roughly $1,000 court fee, which ended up being the final straw. Last Tuesday, a court officer served her with eviction papers, giving her one day to get out. She appealed for an extra day, and by noon Thursday, the shop was cleaned out.
“Luckily I know a lot of people, so I started making calls,” Frarey said. “One of the first people I tried was Dylan (Rogers), who put me in touch with Ryan Wert, and pretty quickly he was able to help me figure something out.”
Rogers and Wert are two of REO Town’s biggest ambassadors. Rogers is co-founder of the performance venue Robin Theatre, and Wert is the owner of Elm Street Recording, as well as owner of the building that will soon be home to Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale. Wert is also executive director of the REO Town Commercial Association and knew about an empty space adjacent to REO Town Recording, 1134 S. Washington Ave.
“Zack Tuck at REO Town Recording had been carrying the rent (in this space) for about a year, and he was very accommodating to help get me in here in a hurry,” Frarey said. “It’s about 600 square feet, almost the exact same size as the East Lansing store, but the layout is actually better and will allow me to fit more into the space. I also have a bathroom now. It’s great.”
Frarey estimates that she had about 15,000 vinyl albums to move last week, in addition to all her racks and vintage stereo equipment. She said it was physically grueling for both her husband, William, and her. The two were involved in a motorcycle accident in 1999 that has left both of them in chronic pain, but it’s also what led her to open the store in the first place.
“I’d been working as a dental assistant, but after the accident, it became too much for me physically,” Frarey said. “Before I did that, I had spent years (in the retail record industry), so I thought maybe I could sell records online. But I really missed working with people.”
So on Jan. 2, 2008, Frarey opened the Record Lounge, taking advantage of East Lansing’s built-in student population and the coincidental resurgence of vinyl. The store quickly became a staple in the scene, joining Flat, Black and Circular and Replay Entertainment Exchange as the triumvirate of locally owned record stores. That was also the year that Record Store Day debuted, where special vinyl albums are released to select outlets around the country. Frarey said part of her financial distress was caused by plunking down over $5,000 to buy merchandise for this year’s Record Store Day, which this year falls on April 22.
“There was that moment of panic when I had no idea what I going to do for Record Store Day,” Frarey said. “That’s one of our biggest days of the year. We’ve already been swamped with people stopping by, so I don’t think (our regular customers) will have a hard time finding us. I feel so incredibly lucky that this worked out the way it did. This may have been a blessing in disguise.”
The Record Lounge 1132 S. Washington Ave., Lansing 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday (517) 862-1976, facebook.com/therecordlounge
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