BOZEMAN — The green and gray awning still beckons customers to Cactus Records on Main Street. One window features a painted saguaro cactus, but brown paper obscures any glimpse inside. “This location now closed,” reads a message taped to the window. Another: “Thanks Y’all. We had a ball.” 

A downtown fixture for decades, Cactus Records and Gifts has relocated west, a casualty of soaring real estate prices that made it prohibitive for longtime owner Mike “Bueno” Good to stay. He learned last year that the property he had rented for two decades was going on the market.

There was just no way, he said, he could pay the $1.8 million the storefront property, which is technically a condo, eventually fetched.

A view from the second floor of the recently relocated Cactus Records store in Bozeman. Credit: Frank Eltman

“That’s a lot of records,” he said. “I initially thought it would maybe be a million and I could have maybe pulled that off. A million-eight, when I heard that I knew that I was not staying.”

Good’s new location across the road from the Gallatin Valley Mall on the city’s west end is a bright, welcoming space, where customers can browse through aisles of new and used vinyl records and CDs and a second floor that features T-shirts and all kinds of doo-dads and music memorabilia.

He bought the space for less than $700,000 and has a newfound sense of security. 

“I don’t see myself kicking the store out,” the new landlord said with a chuckle. 

Soon after taking ownership, he had the walls soundproofed so he can resume live performances, something that had grown tiresome for some of his old downtown neighbors.

He believes his loyal customers, who are at their core music aficionados, will stick with him.

“We’re missing out on a lot of the foot traffic, especially from tourists and that kind of thing,” Good said. “We do have our very regular customer base. We’ve been in Bozeman for 50 years, roughly, so I think people will make the trip.”

Josh Kinsel, who has been a customer for more than 15 years, is one of those who has found his way to the new location, but he’s not happy about it.

He said Good’s tagline for the old store was “weirdo store,” and not having that particular ambience downtown is a loss.

Cactus Records customer Jeff Carlson looks through some new arrivals of vintage vinyl records. Credit: Frank Eltman

“It’s been there for so long and it felt like an anchor for downtown for a lot of folks and it’s hard not to feel like it’s changing the character,” Kinsel said.

“It just seems like this town is getting more hostile to a certain type of person or a certain type of scene.”

Good has seen a revolution in the music business since he took ownership of the well-established store six days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. 

“Six months after that iTunes showed up,” he said. “CD sales just bottomed out completely.”

He was familiar with vinyl records, having worked at a record distribution company and record label in San Francisco, but at the time LPs were mostly the domain of DJs. 

“There were a couple of times when I thought that was it,” he said. “The cash flow was just not running in the direction it needed to go.”

He kept the store afloat by becoming the go-to place to purchase tickets to live shows in the Bozeman area. The sales provided free advertising and helped build traffic into the store. Eventually, he began to ride the wave of the resurgence of vinyl records, which breathed life into the business and now accounts for more than $1 billion in sales nationally.

When COVID shut just about everything down in early 2020, he said, sales of vinyl records soared even more. 

“It’s been there for so long and it felt like an anchor for downtown for a lot of folks and it’s hard not to feel like it’s changing the character.”

Josh Kinsel, Cactus Records customer

“So many people were not going out anymore,” he said. “They rediscovered their parents’ record collection or whatever and then they bought a new turntable.”

The money music fans had been spending on tickets for live shows that had disappeared started going toward vinyl albums.

Jeff Carlson, a 64-year-old retiree who lives in Bozeman, is one of those customers. He was looking at an old Yes album and a 1986 Anita Baker record on a recent afternoon. 

“I’ve upgraded my stereo quite a bit and now I’m out searching again,” he said. Carlson happened upon the downtown store a few years back, and has made it a point to come browse the new location.

Good is marking the grand reopening of his store on Saturday, April 23, participating in the 15th annual Record Store Day, an international promotion of independent record stores. The recording industry helps the stores by releasing limited edition works by artists across the musical spectrum.

This year’s ambassador for Record Store Day is Taylor Swift, and Cactus Records will have a limited stock of a new release from the pop superstar. He expects music collectors of all genres to line up early for a shot at some of the special releases that will be available. He also plans to have live music performances to mark his return.

Record Store Day co-founder Michael Kurtz, who recently moved to Bozeman with his family, said he’s seen stores like Cactus Records get pushed out of downtowns in other places.

Cactus Records owner Mike “Bueno” Good stands inside his new store after relocating from downtown Bozeman after several decades in the same location. Credit: Frank Eltman

“Usually they end up being successful, but it takes a minute because they’ve got to get people to switch their habits and they don’t get that walk-in traffic anymore,” Kurtz said.

Kurtz said when he arrived in Bozeman he was thrilled to find Cactus, which he said is known far beyond Montana.

“Bueno’s in a good situation in that the record store business is about as healthy as it’s been in decades,” he said.

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Frank Eltman is a former Associated Press reporter and editor who retired in 2020 after a 31-year career. He was the AP’s Long Island correspondent from 2006 to 2018, where he was honored with induction into the Long Island Press Club Journalism Hall of Fame. He most recently was an editor at the AP’s West Regional Desk in Phoenix, where he worked on stories in 13 western states including Montana. He and his wife moved to Bozeman in 2021 to live closer to their daughter and future son-in-law.