A Small Business Owner’s Journey to Soundtracking Bismarck-Mandan

8 mins read
Rhythm Records Music Café offers hundreds of titles in new vinyl records, with many, many more used vinyl records for sale.

Live Music, Crate Digging, and more at Rhythm Records Music Cafe

Founded in 2011 by Robbie Montgomery and Richard Lowen, Rhythm Records Music Café has evolved over the last decade to become a hub for music lovers in the Bismarck-Mandan area. The store has found success through unique business tactics to interest people, including live music events in the space.

I sat down with Gus Lindgren, current owner of Rhythm Records Music Café, to discuss the business’s journey through the pandemic, how Rhythm Records is positioning itself in the center of the Bis-Man music scene, how Lindgren took over the business, and much more.

After successfully running the store together for years, Lowen bought the business outright from Montgomery to take over and continue operating Rhythm Records. Meanwhile, Lindgren was playing in a handful of local bands alongside Lowen. According to Lindgren, Lowen was unsure how well the store would perform when it began to fall on hard times during renovations and changes being made.

Those obstacles didn’t stop Lindgren’s entrepreneurial spirit from wanting to keep going and see which direction he could take the business. “Around 2018, I got involved because I appreciated not only having a local record store but also a place with live music that acts as an incubator of sorts for new bands to perform in the community before working their way up to playing larger venues in town. So, I decided to help run the store, chill for a few hours, and let Richard do his thing,” Lindgren said.

Rhythm Records Music Café’s vinyl record catalog on sale is roughly 75% new records and 25% used records.

Lowen and Lindgren ran Rhythm Records together for two years before Lowen exited the business in pursuit of other ventures. Lindgren made the decision to purchase the business outright from Lowen in January 2020, which was less than ideal timing for Lindgren.

A few short months later, COVID impacted the entire business landscape and the future of the business was uncertain. “It was definitely rough and a lot to deal with, but I’m glad that I did. If our situation was any different, there’s a chance that the store may not have survived. Rhythm Records got through COVID after waiting out most of 2020. We didn’t really get back into it until Christmas shopping at the end of 2020,” Lindgren said.

During that time, however, Lindgren saw an opportunity. The decision was made to move down the street to a new space within the historic Anderson building and reopen in the new location in June of 2021. 

“[The new location] has been great for business. People are loving the location and it has been a blast. We have great neighbors and we have yet to receive any noise complaints for our rock shows! I’m happy with the store being here and it has been making great progress over the last two years. It’s always great to see fresh faces coming in through the door, and I’m looking forward to more of that this summer,” Lindgren said.

One benefit of the new space is the setup to easily incorporate live musical acts and performances within Rhythm Records Music Café. Live music events are one of Rhythm Records’ qualities that sets it apart from the majority of other record stores, and most small businesses, in Bismarck-Mandan.

Rhythm Records Music Café’s mission is to provide interesting new records, affordable used records, and live, local music to the Bis-Man community

While they aim for three to four shows per month to keep people returning to support local artists, that number oftentimes doubled throughout 2022. While it may have been a lot to organize and keep control of for Lindgren, he believes that he knows why the surging number of musicians were itching to play for the public.

“It was a lot to handle, but I think so many of the bands were just ready to perform. Whether they had an album to promote or a tour that they’d been putting off, people were excited to both play live music and get out and hear live music,” Lindgren said. “We plan to have more live music and continue hosting shows with a variety of different genres of bands and continue to develop the collection. There’s a lot going on in the Bismarck-Mandan area and we’re happy to be a part of it.”

Through rocky times and uncertain futures, Lindgren has sharpened his entrepreneurial skillset through Rhythm Records Music Café and the challenges that come with operating the business, just like any other. Through a pandemic, relocation, and many more challenging circumstances, Lindgren has pushed Rhythm Records to come out on the other side of situations stronger than ever before.

“When I started working with Richard, I was not a businessman by any means. I did my last two years of college and had no plan to get into business at all. I was looking for something else to do and this simply caught my attention. There’s much more to running a business than I ever would have expected. It’s been overwhelming, but after realizing what I didn’t know about Rhythm Records after surviving COVID, I really want to see how far I can take this and how successful I can make Rhythm Records Music Café, so that’s a huge personal motivator,” Lindgren said.

“It’s a wonderful place for people to hang out, hear some music, and run into like-minded individuals that enjoy music. I love when customers are browsing and start connecting with one another over a certain band or singer. It’s the sort of place that sparks those interactions that few other places genuinely can. I get a real kick out of it and love seeing those individuals come together.”

"To answer the most common question that I get when people comeinto the store, yes, we do buy records! It depends on what shape they're in, or whether people are looking for those resocrds, but I'm always happy to take a look."

A Q&A with Gus Lindgren, Owner of Rhythm Records Music Cafe

Are there busier times in the year for you or is it pretty consistent?

It’s been pretty busy lately. January and February are the only really slow months, but people have been coming in the door more often as it’s warmed up outside.

What made you want to get involved with, and eventually take over, Rhythm Records?

I love having a space that I enjoy going to, doing music at, and meeting new people at. I think that Rhythm Records sits in a sweet spot for record stores, as you can get new records and mainstream releases, but also stumble upon that old record that you’ve been searching for. People can also find new releases a bit off the beaten path, so we’re really doing something that nobody else in the area is doing.

I couldn’t help but notice the photos on the ceiling. Is there a story behind those?

This year, I started using a daily calendar that showcases one piece of album cover artwork per day. Rather than getting rid of them, I’ve been putting them on the ceiling. I didn’t want to change too much when taking over, but people have been loving it and I feel that it adds to the aesthetic and heart of the store.

Looking ahead, do you plan on offering more than records, or are people solely coming for the records and shows?

We may offer some collectibles down the road, but we’re definitely tight on shelf space. There’s so much music coming out every week, and we want to offer as much as we can to the people that walk through our doors. I’ve been ordering more copies and doing more pre-orders for now, but we may expand into collectibles down the road.

Where do you get the majority of your records from?

The new records come exclusively from my distributor. I’ve made a point of not really going out of my way to find used records. I don’t go competing with people at yard sales, mostly because the vendors upstairs also have a great selection of used records that is worth checking out. This building is like a destination for vinyl music, and I love that.

How many vinyl records do you own yourself?

I own somewhere around 600 records. Around a third of my records came from my dad’s collection. I visit my parents back in California two to three times a year, so I’ll always bring back some of that collection since my dad made the switch to CDs.

Gus Lindgren’s Journey to North Dakota

Lindgren, originally from California, finds himself a long way from home in Bismarck, ND. The “Golden State” native followed his then-girlfriend, now-wife north to North Dakota when she accepted a job in the area. Now, Lindgren has been in North Dakota for roughly 15 years, and he seems to have settled down and enjoys the different environment.

“It was a commitment in itself to move all the way up here, but I really love it. I really enjoy the slower pace of life where you don’t have to get on the chaotic freeway or make your way through a crowd, no matter where you want to go.”

– Gus Lindgren

What are your thoughts on people switching music formats to vinyl after so many switched away years ago?

Personally, I don’t think a person should have to switch formats more than once. If you’ve already switched to CDs, don’t let anybody twist your arm into going back or switching again. As a kid that grew up with CDs, vinyl is super exciting to feel and look at.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with streaming music. I stream music all the time. You’ll hear a bunch of audiophiles go off about how streaming ruins the sound, but I think it’s really good for exploring new music. Music can be heavily explored at a low cost, and I think we owe it to ourselves to be able to explore. If you want to have a collection, I think it’s clear that vinyl has come out on top for that

There’s something a bit more special and tactile about having a vinyl record, compared to a CD. There’s an intention when it comes to putting on a record, sitting down, and enjoying it. No other listening experience is even comparable, like a 6-CD player or streaming music on your phone. You could shuffle dozens of different artists and it’s not the same as sitting down with a certain record for the next 40 to 50 minutes.

I think there’s something fascinating about going out and spending that extra money for a large physical copy, compared to streaming. Today, people are able to explore thousands of songs at a time. If you truly love a certain record that you hear, I think it’s totally worth owning a physical copy and adding it to your collection.

How has Rhythm Records embedded itself in the Bis-Man (music) community?

As far as live music goes, Rhythm Records Music Café is part of a loose network of DIY venues. Richard [Lowen] paved the way by putting the word out that a band or artist can come here, play a show, and make some gas money. This spot has a great love for independent artists, and people in the Bismarck-Mandan community turn out to support them. It’s a great feeling to make things happen for bands and musicians that are trying to get their name out there or just have a good time on the stage.

Upcoming Acts

Wed. 6/21 | Open Mic!
Wed. 7/5 | Open Mic!
Sat. 7/15 | agonystevo and the Agony Boyz (hip-hop)
Wed. 7/19 | Open Mic!
Wed. 8/2 | Open Mic!
Mon. 8/7 | County Conservation District (synth ambient)
Wed. 8/16 | Open Mic!
Sat. 8/19 | Faith Kelly Art & Music & Caswyn Moon (americana)

All events all ages, 7pm, $7 door unless noted. More shows being scheduled! 

Rhythm Records Music Cafe

Phone: 701.426.7348
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: /RhythmRecordsCafe
Instagram: @rhythm.records.nd
Address: 200 W Main Ave, Bismarck, ND 58501
Hours: Tuesday—Saturday: 12 – 6 p.m.