Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: 'We're Starting to See Things Come Back a Bit'

Strictly Discs
Courtesy of Strictly Discs

Strictly Discs

While business has been reasonably brisk since the store reopened last Friday, owner Angie Roloff says the process has come with its share of anxieties.

In October 1988, Angie Roloff and her husband Ron opened Strictly Discs in Madison, Wisconsin, after Ron left a career in the biomedical research field to pursue his love of music full time. Nearly 31 years later, the couple made the difficult decision to shutter in-store operations due to COVID-19, roughly a week before Governor Tony Evers forced a mandatory shutdown of all non-essential businesses. Now that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has overturned Evers' stay-at-home order -- ruling it "unlawful" and "unenforceable" -- the Roloffs and their employees are preparing to reopen Strictly Discs in a limited capacity for the first time since mid-March.

As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Roloff each week to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (See the full series here.)

What’s changed for you since we spoke last week?

We did open on Friday with some pretty significant changes. [We're] just open noon to five, seven days a week, and at least for the interim, we're limited to five people in the store based on a combination of the city and county orders that went in place after the governor's order was struck down by the Supreme Court.

Have you have you brought on any additional employees since we last talked?

No. The only one that isn't here right now that's available to work should actually be coming in for a shift this weekend, but I haven't had a chance to have him here yet.

How many people do you have working at the store total?

In a combination of full and part time, 10 right now.

Have a lot of customers have been coming to the store?

Every Friday is when we put out our fresh used vinyl arrivals and that naturally coincided with the first day that we were open. We have a little pent up demand for used vinyl, so we did have small lines on both Friday and Saturday to get in given the capacity of five people.

We certainly saw a lot of regulars on both of those days, which was great. Sometimes in this business you take for granted how much interaction you get with people and all of a sudden they're gone, so it was nice to see everyone. And then Sunday was also a strong day. I'd say all three of those days were about 60% of what we normally do on a weekend. Monday and Tuesday were still good, but a more quiet day for [those days] of the week.

And now I feel, with both [Wednesday and Thursday], that we're starting to see things come back a bit. I think in Madison people are going to be conservative about how many places they go and how conservative they are as far as their health and whatnot. But I think we'll start to see more people in the next week.

Have people been adhering to social distancing guidelines when they're in the store, for the most part?

Yeah, people have been good. We've made a lot of precautions. Just for example, on those new [vinyl] arrivals, usually that would be four to five rows of used LPs right next to one another, so we've spaced those out throughout the store so multiple people can be shopping the new arrivals without being close to one another. And even though we're a tight store, when you consider [it’s] just five people [at a time], it's quite spacious, so it's been pretty easy to manage that.

Have people generally been showing up with their own masks, or have you been having to provide a lot of masks to people?

Yes and no. I'd say probably 65–70% of people have come with their own mask.

And then for the others you just provide them?

Yes, we have disposable masks and disposable gloves.

And you require both in the store?

Yes, so we have a little cart right outside the door and the door is open, so we can communicate with people if we have space in the store for them, and also to make sure that they grab masks and gloves before they come in.

I hear occasional stories of people who go into stores and are told to put on a mask and they refuse to do it. Have you have you had any situations like that?

No, I haven't. We haven't had any blowback to any of the protocols we've put in place. I feel like we might be a bit blessed by the community we're in. Because I don't anticipate getting any of those.

You did talk about a few other precautions that you were planning on implementing. Could you just run down some of those?

Absolutely. We installed a plexiglass shield at the point of sale, so there's a physical barrier there between whichever one of us is behind the counter and the customer. We have hand sanitizer in a lot of different locations. We've got the masks and the gloves. We've got a contactless garbage can at the exit so people can dispose of any of those items. We have air purifiers both upstairs and down that we invested in, and each evening and morning in different areas of the store, we are using the UV sanitation lights. We have two of those operating all the time when the spaces aren't occupied.

How have your employees been dealing with this whole thing?

Initially, I was curious to see how comfortable everybody would be coming back and also opening. And by and large, everybody was on board. I think we as a group realized that we're doing everything we can to safeguard our health as well as our customers, and at the same time realizing that this is probably a bit of a new normal, so maybe the sooner we get accustomed to it, the better. That said, the first [few] days were just stressful. It's a change, there's unknowns, it just takes a lot of energy. But I think we're getting used to it, including getting used to wearing masks ourselves for long periods of time. Even just that is an adjustment.

Wearing a mask all day long when you're working has to be really uncomfortable.

It's warm, especially if you're doing anything that requires physical exertion, whether you're carrying things or whatnot, cause then you just get more warm. But I think we were all thankful that we as a group decided on the limited hours, because after five hours, you're certainly ready to take a little bit of a break from it.

Are you still offering curbside pickup as well?

We are. And deliveries.

How is your vinyl rando box business going?

We paused that last week as we kinda shifted gears to get ready to open the shop, and also the spring cleaning trend of this time of the year has hit full swing. So Ron's pretty busy with buying collections. That said, we're going to start offering those again next week, because we have a list of people who want them. So it's been a robust demand.

Is there anything else you wanted to mention before we hop off the phone?

I don't think so. We're doing a T-shirt fundraiser for the store with the custom clothing company Bonfire, which is based in Richmond, Virginia. We had thought we would be closed at least until next Tuesday, because that was the initial order, so we had coordinated with a local team of artists to do a John Prine mural on the side of the building which was going up Friday, which coincided with the first day that we were open. So that was pretty fun. It was a really beautiful day. Yeah, there's lots of bright spots and it's a happy message. I think the neighborhood has really responded to it.