Day 161: The Full Circle

Steve Van Dommelen never really planned on owning a record store. It’s not exactly the typical career path of someone with degrees in mathematics and physics, but after deciding against law school, Steve lunged at an exciting an unexpected opportunity—a decision West Michigan music lovers should be very grateful for.The Full Circle first opened in 2003, near the corner of College and 9th Street in downtown Holland.

Photo courtesy of Mike Guisinger

Shortly after graduating from Western Michigan University, Steve returned to Holland and took a job managing Holland Compact Disc, which was owned by Carl Bierling and located on 8th street. This is where Steve first toyed with the idea of opening his own shop. “There were things that [Carl] did that I thought should be done differently,” namely that he “didn’t want to dip his toes into vinyl at the time,” explained Steve.

As downloading music online became more widespread, CD sales plummeted, forcing Holland Compact Disc out of business. Just by chance, the space that now houses The Full Circle went on the market the next day and Steve seized on the opportunity. “I had the papers signed like, within a week,” he said.

Initially Carl had a small stake in The Full Circle, and the two ran the store together. Now Steve owns and runs the store by himself, handling all of the marketing, accounting and inventory, while sitting behind the register when the store is open, which is every day from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Calling his store The Full Circle seemed more than appropriate, since almost everything sold there is circular: the wheels of a cassette tape, CDs, vinyl records and DVDs.

Photo courtesy of Mike Guisinger

The Full Circle has an impressive selection of music, especially for what seems like such a small space. The interior is narrow, almost galley like, with the main room stretching toward a second room towards the back of the store. There’s literally music everywhere, with CDs and newly arrived vinyl lining the bottom shelves, beautiful record jackets and posters tacked up all over the walls, and boxes of yet-to-be sorted used vinyl scattered about the floor. That’s a lot of music, covering all sorts of genres, right at your fingertips.

Photo courtesy of Mike Guisinger

If you think vinyl records have become an anachronism or are nothing more than collectibles, think again. For the past five years or so, there’s been a huge resurgence of vinyl records.  College aged kids are eating up new and used vinyl, while their parents are re-stocking their old collections. Classic rock has also seen somewhat of a revival. “I’ve sold way too many Journey albums, way too many REO Speedwagon albums. I mean, it’s kind of sickening,” Steve joked. And if a Beatles album comes in, it’s sure to be gone by the end of the day.

Now, most bands, especially those on independent labels, release a vinyl edition along with a CD. Don’t worry about neglecting your iPod though, as most vinyl sold today also comes with a digital download code.

If you’re looking to get used CDs, vinyl, DVDs or audio equipment off your hands, The Full Circle’s the perfect place to go. “The lifeblood of the store is buying used CDs and vinyl. It’s like that for any record store this size,” said Steve.

Steve credits a loyal community and a solid base of customers for helping The Full Circle stay afloat as so many other record shops have gone under. Customers’ loyalty isn’t surprising; after a few trips to The Full Circle, Steve will know what you like and he’ll be sure to offer useful recommendations.

The Internet and the downloading revolution it ushered in has been the bane of many independent record stores, but it’s also helped some stores prosper. The Internet makes finding obscure music and out of print vinyl or CDs possible, if you’re willing to put in the effort. “If you can’t find something on vinyl or CD and they made it, I will find it. I do all the work you don’t want to do.” Steve can usually have an order ready for pick up by the next day.

Photo courtesy of Mike Guisinger

This ability and consumers’ new-found interest in vinyl signal a bit of hope for the independent record store, keeping them relevant and vibrant. Steve still remembers carrying boxes of old LPs to the dumpster once CDs were slated to be a permanent replacement. “I’ve seen vinyl go and then come back. I guess it all came full circle.” ~Mike Guisinger, Regional Director

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