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Bizarre business provides successful life for owner

Sean M. Grady
info@nnbw.biz
Bizarre Guitar and Guns owner Greg Golden shows off a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop guitar, one of his preferred instruments, in the humidified vault of Bizarre Guitar.
Sean M. Grady |

Editor’s note: On Aug. 12, 2002, the NNBW printed “Nothing bizarre about worldwide sales,” a small business feature about Greg Golden and Bizarre Guitar.

Fifteen years ago, Greg Golden was set for life.

He owned a world-renowned guitar store and an up-and-coming firearms shop in his own building adjacent to Oddie Boulevard, renting some space to an audio-visual and concert equipment store owned by his childhood friend, Scott Bergstrom.

But the Great Recession and a slowly rebuilding economy came along to work their will on Northern Nevada.

The result?

At the end of it all, Golden still owns a world-renowned guitar store and a well-respected firearms shop that employ 16 people and share the building with his childhood friend’s store.

So what kept his businesses alive when many others, including some in the Truckee Meadows music industry, went by the wayside?

“Just stick-to-itiveness,” said Bergstrom, owner of Starsound Audio. “He’s a very extreme person; once he gets into something, he just keeps a hold on it.”

Golden puts it a little differently.

“Hard work — just lots of hard work, unbelievable hard work and dedication,” he said. “And still, it’s a lot of work.”

There have been changes, though. While he once spent up to 100 hours a week running his stores, he had to cut back to a mere 50 or 60 hours — mainly so he can practice and play with his newly formed band.

Then there is the major Facebook following for the various facets of his business:

The two stores, Bizarre Guitar and Bizarre Gun, which have 12 full-time and four part-time employees, as compared to 12 full- and part-timers in 2002;

The Greg Golden Band, which is recording its second album and has opened for the hard-rock band Tesla — whose lead guitarist, Frank Hannon, is one of Golden’s close friends and a long-time customer;

And “In the Vault with Shanda Golden,” a video interview show that Golden’s wife hosts (one recent guest was heavy metal guitarist Zakk Wylde), which also is available online via YouTube, on its own website — http://www.inthevaultwithshandagolden.com — and elsewhere.

“We have such a huge Facebook following that it’s unbelievable,” Golden said at the end of July. “We reach almost a million people.”

The “In the Vault” portion of the show’s title refers to another addition to Golden’s world: a humidified private museum lined with vintage guitars and amplifiers, signed album covers from groups going back to the 1970s, and other rock memorabilia from 43 years of business.

Golden and Bergstrom — both members in their youth of a Reno-based traveling band called Mourning Sun — started their businesses in Sun Valley in 1974, offering expert service and discounted equipment of a type they wish they could have found while on the road.

Business became so good that the two entrepreneurs moved to their current digs in 1978, building on property Golden bought from his father, Richard Golden, a Las Vegas hotelier and Reno developer who gave Golden Valley its name.

Since then, Golden has built a reputation throughout the music industry for Bizarre Guitar’s inventory.

“It’s fun to have the really nice instruments,” he said. “We have the elite of all the lines like Fender, Taylor, Martin and Ibanez.”

“It’s one of those places you come and visit when you’re in town,” said friend and frequent customer Eric Marsh. “Look around you. This place is really one of a kind.”

“They treat you different here, too,” Eric’s wife, Tecia Marsh, said. “They treat you like family even if they don’t know you. It has soul.”

Bizarre Guns has a similar reputation for inventory and expertise in the local region.

“Almost everybody who works over at Bizarre Guns is either ex-police, ex-military or current military,” Golden said. “We work a lot with the Reno Police Department and Sparks Police Department. We’re a law enforcement dealer, and they have very few of those.”

Some changes on the music side of Golden’s business have not been for the best, unfortunately.

“The reality is, there are fewer and fewer people playing,” he said. “In the age of instant gratification, people want an instant photo shot, or an instant message on their cell phone, or an instant response from their computer.

“Playing a guitar is not something that’s an easy fix. It’s a hard instrument to play. It’s not something that comes overnight; it comes from hard work. So many people are frustrated.”

Not enough are frustrated yet to dampen Golden’s rock dreams, either from the retail side or from the performance side, though.

Which makes one wonder how freaked out the Greg Golden of the mid-1970s would be at the life of Greg Golden today.

“Pretty freaked out, yeah,” Golden said. “I always played in bands, and I always liked gear and I always worked on guitars, but I never realized I would have a shop this big with employees and be playing at big shows.”