While downtown has evolved, or changed beyond recognition, dependent on personal perspective, one Main Street institution has endured. Cactus Records has defiantly remained woven in the fabric of the Bozeman community despite, or perhaps partly because of, numerous seemingly existential threats. Now however, after over 50 years of doing what they do in or around their Main & Wilson location, and to a cacophony of local angst, Cactus must relocate. Far from indulging in bitterness or melancholy however, longtime owner Mike “Bueno” Good, is maintaining the spirit and ethos of survival and looking forward to the next chapter.
Mike and I meet on blustery November evening, in a typical Cactus environment, walled in by turntables and among open boxes of inventory to be logged.
The staff are responsibly masked, the customers are browsing easily and exuding good attitudes.
Can you give me the potted history of Cactus Records?
This current location is Cactus Records third since 1970 I think but it’s always been downtown. Prior to this it was in the basement of the Baxter and before that it was about a block away.
And you have owned it since 2001?
Yes, I had been living in San Francisco working at a record label and distribution company and wanted to move back to Montana. Of course, then there was not much by way of a music industry in Montana. A friend of mine worked at Cactus and she told me that the previous owners had moved away and were kind of running the place remotely. She thought they might consider selling, so I put together a proposal. Over a few months we negotiated and, as you might say, off to the races.
You told me you bought the place just before 9-11, so you faced big challenges almost from day one.
Yes. And that was not even the first challenge. The day after I bought it, they shut this block off from Main Street for a couple months. It was that the first day of the renovation project and everything else, so immediately it was really difficult just to get into the retail businesses. I knew this was going to be my first hurdle but then six days later 9-11 happened and of course the whole world changed.
And of course, soon after you took over the whole digital revolution, had to have a massive impact?
Yeah, at the time Napster had been and gone and I naively thought people would start buying music again, but I think maybe a year later iTunes came along. MP3’s really, really killed CDs and you know whereas before, like tapes and such died but there was still CDs to sell. With MP3’s for a long time no one was buying music.
So, I guess it was really at this time you had to try and transition from being a pure record store and focus more on related items?
Yes, we never stopped selling Vinyl but for a long time you know it was a very small demographic, since really CDs. The previous owners had always sold gifts we just expanded on that. For a long time, we did ticket sales for live gigs as well.
You seem to have a lot of fun stuff, with the slogan T’s etc. I imagine you get a lot of trade from people wandering in after a couple of drinks.
Yes, we do find that. We are kind of not your typical gift shop!
You mentioned the small demographic for Vinyl, but you never wanted to give up on it, I sense that is where your heart is?
When I was working at the record distribution company in San Francisco we primarily did vinyl. The target audience was turntable DJ’s, club DJs that kind of thing, so I already had a strong Vinyl background from that industry, and I mean I’ve collected records my whole life, so yeah, I guess that is right.
And in recent years you have seen a huge resurgence for Vinyl?
Oh, yeah in recent times it’s huge. For physical product it dominates way over CDs. In this world of streaming though you know, most people still stream their music. But most people learn about music from streaming and there’s a segment of population who really love their music collection. They are streaming all the time and they’re finding out who they love and those things that they love, and they want to be a part of, they buy that on Vinyl.
Because there is there isn’t anything quite like having a physical representation it right? I mean you can’t display an MP3. And I think there is the whole process, isn’t there? The placing on the turntable and dropping the needle. Which provides me a great segway into the fact that we are surrounded by turntables. I guess this is a natural extension of your business and the vinyl resurgence?
Yes, I mean if you buy a record, you need something to play it on, right?
And some thing to do it justice?
Right. You can’t really find a decent turntable at Target or Walmart. There has been, like everything else, a huge supply chain issue where it’s been really difficult to get turntables for the last several months. A couple would trickle in here and there and then you go for a few months without getting any. Through my contacts I was fortunate to be able to get a large order in early, as that gate closed pretty much immediately after I did.
OK and so you so those that you have bought now, are they fill orders or are they you holding stock?
I am holding stock. We did well with them last year for the holidays and it just happens that right now it’s harder to get them.
So, the good thing is because of the supply chain issues the fact that you’ve got something like that provides a gift idea? What sort of prices are they?
That is the hope. They start about $99 for our cheapest ones and they go up to about $430.
Ok, so now to the big question. After all these years now, you have to ship out. I am guessing it simply comes down to a rent premium issue?
Not rent as such. The landlords who are the previous owners of Cactus and have always really great with their support but they’re ready to retire, so it was time to sell the space. And it just so happens that all of a sudden, the space is worth so much money. It is just not tenable for me to remain here.
The obvious question is where to next?
So now we’re going out to the west end of town across from the mall, between Rooks and Science Museum, which is where Smoking Smitties used to be. It’s a really cool, very funky space. It is a commercial condo, as this place is but it was far more affordable. It has more space and importantly parking!
And what about plans for the future? You are clearly looking to be around for a good few years to come, anything you are looking to do out there that you can’t do here?
We have always down live, in-store performances periodically but those have become fewer and fewer. Being downtown being surrounded by restaurants and apartments upstairs, it’s harder to find times during the day when you can pull it off. Granted in our new location we will have neighbors and we will be respectful their needs with the sound but the space is really conducive to it live shows
I mean that’s always been your passion, right? And to support local musicians, I mean with the slam festival you have always been active participants. Maybe there is a Cactus Records Summer Concert on the horizon?
Absolutely, there you go! Yeah, with the Science Museum, Rooks and Café Zydeco, that makes it very much a family environment and, yeah, I think it’s just going to be a really fun place to go.
OK, permit me one last trivia question: In all the time that you’ve been here, let’s go with vinyl, what is the highest selling vinyl record?
Gosh, you know it has been mostly in the last year, but I would say the biggest selling record is Rumors by Fleetwood Mac. So much of it recently has to do with that viral video or whatever, but it has always been very popular.
It’s also just such an iconic album cover.
It is and whenever we get it in it sells out. I think with the pressing shortage most stores are finding they can’t get it in.