Brandon Griffin

Ernie November manager Brandon Griffin stands for a photo with the anniversary edition of the Beetles at the store's location on Grand Avenue.

BRONTE WITTPENN, Gazette Staff

Ernie November, one of Billings’ last independent record stores, is moving into a new West End spot as its retro vinyl inventory is becoming cool again.

“We’re looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a good improvement,” owner Steve Merry of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said last week.

Ernie November will move from its home of 13 years at 919 Grand Ave. to 1821 Grand Ave., the former location of Hansen Music. Hansen moved to 524 24th St. W. in November.

The new space is about 2,000 square feet with more parking and a better location, Merry said. It’s in the same building as Guitars and Amps, a music equipment store, creating a synergy in the area, store reps said.

“My employees are looking forward to it, and that’s always a good sign,” Merry said.

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Brandon Desper

Brandon Desper browses through CDs at Ernie November.

Merry owns three other Ernie November stores — in Sioux Falls; Rapid City, South Dakota; and Cheyenne, Wyoming. He opened the Billings store on Broadwater Avenue next to Doc n Eddy’s in 1993, when the city was lacking independent music stores.

Over the last decade, closures of music stores in Ernie November markets accelerated, which helped keep the franchise afloat, Merry said.

This decline of stores coincided with the explosion of digital media and streaming services, which have allowed music lovers to choose their favorite hits and bypass curated albums.

Last fall, Hastings Entertainment shuttered all stores nationwide, including the one at West Park Promenade in Billings, following its corporate parent’s bankruptcy. Months before the closure, Hastings had stopped filling custom orders and started sending some to Ernie November, Griffin said.

After the Hastings closure, Ernie November became even more popular with fans of vinyl, which has undergone a renaissance in recent years, he added.

In 2015, sales of vinyl records hit $416 million nationwide, the highest total in 27 years, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Last year, record sales continued to rise, growing 3.7 percent, while CD sales plummeted by 20 percent, the trade group reported.

Merry declined to release specific numbers at his stores but said the Ernie November in Billings “has been on a real pleasant growth curve” in the past few years.

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New Ernie November

A sign hangs outside the new Ernie November location at 1812 Grand Ave.

Records remain the bread and butter at Ernie November, but the store has evolved with the times to better insulate it from changing trends in music consumption.

“We can never make money just selling records, so that’s why we have a little of everything,” manager Brandon Griffin, 32, said.

The store has a section of water pipes and glass art behind the front counter, added a few years ago. Other specialty items, such as Frisbee golf or Folf discs, are popular with younger customers, Griffin said.

The smell of burning incense hangs in the air of the store, near the area carrying candles and other knickknacks. Ernie November also sells shirts and other edgy apparel, often with counter culture themes.

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Inside Ernie

A man browses through Ernie November on Grand Avenue.

The name “Ernie November” is its own poke at high-class culture, Merry said. It came from a former investor who wrote poetry books and found this inscription in one of them, signed by one Ernie November:

“There’s a lot of bad poetry in this world. Here’s some more.”

Merry said he plans to come to Billings for the move, and he hopes to remain open the entire time.

“It’s just an improvement. You’ve got to do that once in a while,” he said.

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Business reporter for The Billings Gazette.