April 19 2018 11:03 AM

The retail celebration that revived local shops

Record Store Day, the unofficial holiday of all things vinyl, returns Saturday, and there are three places to celebrate. REO Town’s Record Lounge, Old Town’s Replay Entertainment Exchange and East Lansing’s Flat, Black & Circular all have bands booked and are awaiting both stringent record collectors and casual newcomers.

The conception of Record Store Day in 2007 is argued to be a serious contributing factor to a massive resurgence in vinyl, which by the early 2000s was widely considered archaic and blasé. In an impressive turnaround, the Nielsen SoundScan has recorded an increase in vinyl sales for the past 12 years straight, with a 9 percent spike — which amounts to 1 million more LPs sold — from 2016 to 2017.

The same data recorded that vinyl accounted for 14 percent of all physical albums. The highest selling album through all of 2017? In the spirit of the format’s vintage sensibilities, the Beatle’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

“It’s been a huge boon to us. The whole idea was that large labels were gonna help out small stores by having a day that brings huge amounts of attention and brings in people that normally wouldn’t go in,” said Flat, Black & Circular’s Jon Howard. “It did have the unintended side effect of people who are in it to buy rare releases and flip them. But I don’t personally think that has ruined it.”

Record Store Day is not without critics that often cite the aforementioned vinyl scalpers and accuse record labels of releasing mediocre content that relies solely on gimmicks. But it hasn’t really changed Howard’s attitude.

“We still like it. It’s still a huge sales day for us, even outside of Record Store Day exclusive releases. It’s a party kind of thing, I’m positive about it,” Howard said. “I understand the blowback, people say ‘the releases aren’t that good, it’s taking advantage by making releases purposely limited,’ but its still kind of like our Christmas.”

Replay Entertainment Exchange manager Clint Harkness shares much of Howard’s optimistic sentiment.

“It always helps out with the business. We get a lot of business on those days, it’s pretty rad,” Harkness said. “It’s a little pricey, but if you’re a collector like I am it’s nice to get stuff that you would never able to get your hands on.”

It isn’t always just a one-day sales spike. Harkness said the event gives his shop a much needed pipeline to attract future dedicated customers.

“Oh man, the exposure. Every year I get a few people that say ‘oh, I’ve never heard of your store before, but I saw that you were doing Record Store Day, so we came in’ and now they’re loyal customers and I see them once a week,” Harkness said. “If nothing else, people just for one day go to independent stores and spend money. I think that’s cool.”

And to the critics? “Everything’s a gimmick. Everything you buy and you sell is a gimmick — no matter what it is. Some people hate on it, the big record companies have definitely come in on it as far as pressings go, but it still helps small businesses,” Harkness said. “Everybody’s got to have something to complain about.”

Record Lounge owner Heather Frarey has certain reservations.

“When it first started it was a really good thing, it helped out independent shops like mine a whole lot. But as it grew, more of the bigger labels starting putting their spin on reissues and the prices kept going up and up and up,” Frarey said. “It’s gotten to be kind of a thing for the bigger labels. They make a lot of money off of it.”

But even with some minor complaints, Frarey is equally grateful for an opportunity to get people in the door.

“There are kind of gimmicky things that can be kind of cool, so that’s a good thing about it. It helps out the shop,” Frarey said. “I might moan about spending money for all the stuff I have to bring in, but in the end there’s a profit. It’s nice. Everyone’s happy and has a great time. It’s a good thing.”

And for all the supposed gimmicks, the bubble of Record Store Day has shown no signs of bursting.

“Me and the owner have always talked about waiting for that year when the bubble pops,” Howard said. “But it hasn’t happened and we’re amazed every year.”

The Record Lounge Featuring a performance by the Lemon Collies, giveaways, raffles and snacks catered by the Crafted Bean Store opens at 10 a.m. 1132 S. Washington Ave., Lansing www.facebook.com/therecordlounge

Flat, Black & Circular Featuring exclusive giveaways and performances by No Skull, Nicholas of Hat Madder and the Complainers Store opens at 10 a.m. 541 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing www.flatblackandcircular.com

Replay Entertainment Exchange Featuring giveaways and a performance by Destroyer Store opens at 8 a.m. 536 E. Grand River Ave, Lansing www.replaylansing.com