For every teenager who came of age in the mid-’90s, there is deep sense of nostalgia and reverence for the independent record store. As teens, we spent hours scouring the CD bins of record stores for that hidden gem – that stamped promotional CD, that rare single, that illegal bootleg – and would take great pride in bragging to our friends about it afterwards at a coffee shop that was not Starbucks. Vinyl wasn’t yet cool again. Digital downloading didn’t yet dominate our method of finding, listening to, and exchanging music. We still made each other “mixtapes” and burned each other CDs. We lived for live shows. Ticketmaster wasn’t a racket. Empire Records was our lives in high school. High Fidelity was our lives in college. We all wanted to work in a record store.
Then came 1999, and Napster, and the collapse of the music industry, and the near extinction of the independent record store.
“Two-thirds of all the music stores in the country closed [during that time],” says Todd Fundaro, owner of Flipside Records in Clawson.
Flipside has been in its current location on 14 Mile Rd. for 32 years come this February, though Fundaro’s father started selling records around 1980 in Oak Park. Flipside is a family business, and – aside from a couple of years in the Army in the ’80s – a lifetime career for Fundaro. He bought the business from his father, who has since “gone to the great record store in the sky,” and shepherded it through the first decade of the new millennium that gutted most independent music retailers. Downsizing and diversifying sustained them, as did the resurgence of vinyl that came in the wake of digital downloads.
“I’m constantly trying to devote more space to vinyl,” says Fundaro, whose store inventory has made a very marked flip over the last 15 years – from endless rows and bins of CDs and a small section of vinyl to the complete opposite. “Vinyl outsells CDs three to one. At least half of the digital material in the store is in some sort of clearance section. We just put some 15 full-length sealed CDs in a brown paper bag for $5. It’s a mystery bag!”
He also says the popularity of vinyl extends to all genres. Even when vinyl was the standard format, there were certain genres that didn’t sell well, like comedy and country. Now everything is in demand – classic rock, current music, early country, comedy albums, even independent punk.
Flipside is known for being the kind of store that has a little bit of everything cool. Fundaro jokes, “I deal in anything I can legally turn a dollar on.” He says that during those very lean digital download years, it was diversifying into things like collectible toys and used video games and DVDs that helped them make it through.
In addition to music, Flipside carries a wide selection of other entertainment items and merchandise that complements the music fan’s lifestyle. Fundaro likes to call it a “retro entertainment mecca” – even the pinup girl logo is a retro throwback. They have collectible toys, video games, DVDs and Blu-ray discs, music posters, T-shirts, all kinds of music accessories including vinyl storage and cleaning kits, instruments, incense, and a whole line of smoking paraphernalia. “We carry so many different things, you never know what you’re going to see in here, and if you haven’t been in in awhile, give yourself an hour to go through the store.”
They even have a selection of cassette tapes – really – that sell for $1 each or 20 for $15. And if you think that the cassette is as dead as the 8-track, Fundaro says that on this past Record Store Day, the most in-demand item was the cassette tape release of the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, a nod to the mixtape prominently featured in the film.
While the cassette tape might not make the same comeback as the record did (and CDs will mostly likely keep losing ground), you can also find a cassette player at Flipside just in case you need one. It is a retro entertainment mecca, keeping you mired in the past for 30 years, as their slogan states.
They also offer services like CD, DVD, and video game disc cleaning and repair, as well as audio transfers – cassettes to vinyl or CD, vinyl to cassettes, whatever your heart desires.
Everything in the store is fully warrantied for seven to thirty days, depending on the item. You can bring in your used video games, DVDs, and CDs, and check out their dirt-cheap selection while you’re there (even Fundaro is amazed at some of their prices, like HBO series DVD sets that initially went for $100, sold unopened for only $15).
“We have a combination of hard-to-find stuff at reasonable prices; you can be confident you’re not getting jacked around,” he says.
Between Fundaro and his other employees, they have decades of experience in the independent music retail industry. They know it all, they’ve seen it all, they’ve rolled with the punches and they’re there to make their customers happy. Those of us who haunted the place in the ’90s had a much different experience than the teenagers of today snatching up precious vinyl, but all the same, Flipside has been there to guide each generation in the formation of their own music – and young adult – identities, and will hopefully continue to do so for generations to come.