Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: 'I Feel a Responsibility to Our Community'

Strictly Discs
Courtesy of Strictly Discs

Strictly Discs

As Dane County enters Phase 1 of reopening, owner Angie Roloff has expanded the in-store capacity of her Madison record shop.

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. (Read last week's installment here and see the full series here.)

What's changed for you since the last time we spoke?

On Tuesday of this week, we moved into the first phase of our county's reopening plan, so our capacity has increased from five to approximately 20 [customers]. And then starting tomorrow, as a result, we plan to extend our hours from the current 12– 5 to 10–5 daily. So we're just continuing to proceed and stretch cautiously.

And you still have the mandates that everyone needs to wear masks and gloves inside?

We do.

How has business been?

We're cautiously optimistic and just trying to remember that this is going to be a gradual process. Each day is a little bit different. Some of the trends that we've become accustomed to in our 32 years in this business don't always hold water at this point, so to speak. Fridays and Saturdays, so far -- granted, we've only had two of them since we opened -- have still continued to be the busiest days of the week. We just see some fluctuation on the other days, and I just don't have a lot to compare that to yet.

Have you had lines forming outside even with the increased capacity?

Since the capacity went up, we haven't had to limit people or make them wait outside to come in. So that has not been an issue. I think the weekend will be telling in that regard. I know our city has really stressed that the onus for making sure everyone's comfortable and safe is on the business, so for example, if you had a family of four that were all grouped together shopping, maybe that capacity could be interpreted a little bit more liberally compared to 20 unique shoppers. They're stressing that we all should use our good judgment to keep everybody safe and so that's what we intend to do.

What percentage of your business at this point would you say has been in-store versus curbside and delivery?

I would say in-store so far has been 65–70% since we opened.

Last time we spoke, you said you hadn't had any negative reactions from customers around wearing masks and gloves in the store. I'm not fishing for any juicy stories here or anything, I'm just genuinely curious if you've had any incidents since then.

We have not. And we are, I feel, really fortunate, because I have heard a couple other stories of some pushback even in our business district, on our street.

Have people been pretty good about following social distancing guidelines while inside?

They really have. I think people naturally respond to other people in their space. Maybe one person might not be as cautious, but we fortunately have the space that other people can react accordingly. So I think everyone is just kind of self regulating what they're comfortable with.

At the current pace of your business, do you feel confident right now in how it's going and that you can keep your doors open? And if not, how long do you think you have before you need things to pick back up to levels at or near where they were before the pandemic? I know that's a big question.

It is a big question. It's a good question. It's one that I think about every day, because I can tend to be a bit of a fretter. Thankfully, we have a really positive team here, so most people remind me and help me keep my glass half full. But naturally, we have some concerns. You know, we want to maintain the viability and the health of our business. I have worries about Record Store Day. I have worries about the fourth quarter and just what what it's going to look like at those times specifically. Right now I feel very positive and I realize that we're just in the very infancy of people being able to be out and about again. So, I feel like it's too early to tell.

Have you started delivering the rando boxes again and if so, how has that been going?

We have been, yes. We are limiting the number each week to about 15, but there's still plenty of demand for a box of surprise.

You mentioned last time that your John Prine mural has gotten a really good reaction from the neighborhood. I think it's little things like that that sometimes keep people going in a time of so much doom and gloom. How do you keep yourself going with so much uncertainty in the air?

In all honesty, we don't have any choice but to just take it day by day. I feel a responsibility to our community on multiple levels, whether it be our employees, our neighboring businesses, or even the record community as a whole to keep it going and to continue to be good stewards for what we do.

Anything else you'd like to mention?

The one thing I would say that I don't think you and I have touched on is that we're part of a larger group, which is called the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, which represents many of the best record stores in the country. And I think for me, I feel really fortunate that I have that group of like minded business owners and managers to draw strengths and best practices from. And that's certainly been helpful in this process, as it is all the time.

How do you keep in touch with those people?

We have a Facebook group, and we also have kind of a listserv program, so you can communicate in either of those ways, which has been super helpful on [everything from] what people are doing as they're reopening to funding sources and just general best practices. Those same sorts of groups exist for our business district here. I have folks that I can just text and get feedback from immediately, which is wonderful.

And I imagine it's nice to have those people in case you need to vent, right?

Yes, and just a reminder that everybody is going through uncertainty. I think sometimes realizing that all the cliches of "We're in this together" seems to fall more close to home when [you're talking to] people that are doing the same thing you're doing each day.