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Flint, MI—Sitting among shelves overflowing with records, CDs, tapes, and books in his north Flint music store, Carter McWright joked about how it all began.
“I ate sandwiches for about two years,” he chuckled.
Then in his early twenties, McWright had sold his blue and white ’76 Cadillac to fund his store, Music Planet, which he moved from Saginaw, Mich. to Flint in September 1981.
“I wanted to have funds not just to go into business, but to operate a business,” McWright said.
And so he has—for 40 years.
September 2021 marked the 40th anniversary of Music Planet, McWright’s ever-evolving record store known for promoting local talents like The Dayton Family and MC Breed and hosting big names like Run DMC and LL Cool J over its storied history.
“LL Cool J… I think he came outside in the limo and the people rushed. He didn’t come in,” laughed McWright.
McWright originally opened Music Planet in the late 1970s while working as a suit salesman at JCPenney.
“I figured if I could make money for Penney’s I could make money for myself,” he said, smiling.
McWright’s mother played piano and his father sang at their church in Louisiana while he was growing up. The store owner said between listening to them and frequenting his local record shop, he was bound to do something in music—even if he didn’t inherit his parents’ talents.
“I could not sing,” he said. “But I always loved music.”
That love of music eventually pushed McWright to open his own record store, which he moved to north Flint in September 1981.
“Oh, Flint was booming,” he said of the city at that time.
“Mott was prosperous. GM was strong… And there were a lot of events happening with the (Industrial Mutual Association Auditorium) and other local facilities … Flint was a nice place to be.”
Since then, Music Planet has outlasted not only the 6,000 seat IMA Auditorium, but many of the other record stores then-open in Flint—most of which McWright can still list.
“Nick’s … New Sound … Harmony House … There were a lot of stores,” he said, shaking his head.
When asked how he managed to stay open, McWright said, “From the beginning, I was committed to being concerned with Music Planet.”
Being concerned with Music Planet meant not focusing too much on what others were doing. McWright instead evolved his collection from records to tapes, CDs, and other merchandise and began offering diverse music-related services.
“We sold Ticketmaster for 16 years,” McWright said, pointing to a closed ticketing window at the back of his store. The store owner also supported many local bands, like Ready for the World, whose gold record hangs on a wall of memorabilia in the shop’s far corner.
McWright even helped produce an album for The Flint Cavaliers in the late 90s.
“You see my picture there on the back?” he said proudly, index finger touching the band’s CD case. McWright had pulled the CD from the top shelf next to his memorabilia wall, letters above the shelf read “Flint’s Own.”
The shelf, he explained, is exclusively for Flint artists.
After talking through the series of evolutions he and Music Planet had been through since 1981, McWright narrowed in on what he did, specifically, to manage his store for so long.
“I just said, ‘I’ve got to do what I think is right for my survival,'” McWright said. “If you stay committed, who knows? It may evolve again.”
LaDonna Munerlyn, McWright’s girlfriend and sometimes-helper at Music Planet, also noted that the record store owner understands his customers and the Flint community’s tastes.
“There are 17 churches along this road,” she said, motioning out to West Carpenter Road from the wood-paneled front room of the store.
Music Planet’s top seller: gospel.
Although his store is still doing well, McWright said, times have changed since he opened.
“When I first began I had about six (employees),” he said. “And right now it’s actually down to one, which is me, of course.”
The store owner gets help from Munerlyn and his kids, who’ll come in on the weekend when the store is at its busiest.
McWright said he doesn’t mind all of the adjustments he’s had to make over the years, and he remains motivated to be a stalwart for Flint.
“I’m still energetic because I see a community that loves music—I believe needs music,” he said.
“I’ve had ups and downs, and I could have easily folded…but there is a segment of the population that loves their CDs, that love their albums…and I believe more people prayed for me than against me,” he smiled, looking around the store he has opened each morning and closed each evening nearly every day for 40 years.
“I’m still here,” McWright said. “Give God the glory.”