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Former Sugar Shack Records employee to open Boneset Records

Photo: Maggie Denman, left, shares a toast with Sugar Shack Records owner Gary John Feest. Behind them are shelves and filing cabinets, covered with a variety of CDs and stickers amassed during Sugar Shack’s 41-year run.

Musician and artist Maggie Denman is taking over Sugar Shack’s inventory and plans to launch a new store on East Johnson Street.

Maggie Denman says that when she worked at Sugar Shack Records for owner Gary John Feest, he was “the best boss I ever had.” Feest is pretty high on his former employee, too. So high that this coming Monday, Sugar Shack Records inventory will become the property of Denman. Upon learning earlier this year that his 41-year-old store’s lease was ending on Atwood Avenue, Feest tried to sell his stock of vinyl, tapes, and CDs, with no luck. Rather than selling it in parcels or donating it to St. Vinny’s, he’s giving it to someone who is eager and ready to run her own shop.

“I think it’s a lot of people’s dream to own a record store and I’m one of those people,” Denman says. “Record stores are my happy place and I want to share that with my family, friends and community.” 

Saturday will be Feest’s last day of operation. Fittingly, it’s Record Store Day. 

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“It’ll be nuts,” he says. 

Then, on Sunday, Feest will come back into the shop and hand select items he’ll keep. It was the idea of moving everything that led to his decision to close.

Denman—a musician and visual artist who has played in Madison bands including No Question, Proud Parents, and According To What, in addition to her solo project Margerat Dryer—had expressed an interest in the store right after Feest announced he was closing. Feest phoned her and told her that he’d rather donate it to her than to a place like St. Vinny’s so she could start her own store. “Your part of the deal,” he told Denman, “is you have to get all this stuff out of here.” (Full disclosure: Denman also contributes editorial illustrations to Tone Madison on a frequent basis.)

It’s plenty of work moving an entire record shop in two days, which is what Denman and volunteers will do next Monday and Tuesday. But Denman will have to move the entire stock twice. That’s because her lease on the temporary storefront she’s taking over on East Johnson doesn’t start until May 1. When you factor in the temporary nature of the East Johnson address, that makes a total of three moves before her new shop will be fully realized.

As Feest says, “Owning a record store is fun. But it’s hard work.” 

Denman has named her new store Boneset Records, an homage to one of her favorite artists, Diane Cluck. The location in the basement of an office building at 2565 E. Johnson St. is a space that’s smaller than Feest’s current storefront on Atwood Avenue. Denman plans to keep overflow product in storage. Business hours have yet to be determined but once open, she plans a warm place for people to gather in a constant environment of music.

“My goal is for it to be a cozy hangout, with couches and listening stations if I can,” she says. “That’s one of the things I missed about shops when I was growing up, being able to pick out an album I’d never heard or seen and be able to listen before buying. One of the many reasons I love Sugar Shack, [is that we] had a CD listening station set up—or would play an album for you.” 

In time Denman plans to leave her current full time job and make the record store her singular, full-time gig. She says she’s “nervous, excited, inspired…I have many feelings about it and I’m honored to carry on the store in some capacity.” Feest will be there in spirit, to be sure—and maybe more than that, at least casually. “I have so many memories [at Sugar Shack] and I randomly stop in to chat with Gary, but soon he’ll be able to visit me in the shop and bring along his adorable puppy,” Denman says.

As for Feest, well, Saturday’s last day will be a big deal. I, too, will miss stopping in, finding that hard-to-get country LP, chatting, and standing in the bright glow of his Cheshire Cat smile.

What’s his advice for Denman? “To stick it out. To hang in there,” he says. “It’ll be a little easier because she’ll have a customer base. I started from scratch and it took me 13 years to hire my first employee. She’s also starting at a time when people are crazy about records. You gotta have a passion for it, and I think she does.”

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