Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: 'This Last Weekend Started to Feel a Little More Normal'

Strictly Discs
Courtesy of Strictly Discs

Strictly Discs

As Dane County looks toward phase 2 of reopening, the Madison record store continues to see an increase in business.

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.)

So much has happened in the last week, with the protests specifically. How have you been feeling about everything?

I think it's a powerful moment, and I feel like there are so many people actively working for change. It's hard not to be positive about that, even with the uncertainty that surrounds just about everything in our world right now.

I personally find it hard to know how to best help out right now. It's almost overwhelming.

It is. And it's strange that it's happening at the same time as COVID-19, because I feel a little bit the same way about that. One minute you read something that seems positive and hopeful, and then a split second later, I'll read some research that seems to undermine that hopeful forward progress. It's very unsettling.

How are things going in Madison now? I know there were several days of protests.

They are still happening, and they have happened every day, even when we had some torrential rains. So it seems that there are some strong roots [there].

I just watched some video of police using tear gas on protesters in Madison.

That was just the first three days. Thankfully, there hasn't been any call for anything like that since then, [and] it seems like that was really the turning point here in Madison. When the violence seemed to stop was when there was less police presence.

Have the protests migrated at all to where you are?

They have not.

We talked last time about how you're donating a percentage of proceeds every Tuesday in June to causes supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. I'm wondering if you've drilled down on what specific causes you're going to be supporting?

We [reached out to] all of our staff for ideas, and last Tuesday we agreed on an organization called Freedom, Inc. They are an organization that works to end social injustice for low to no income communities of color in our county. They have been instrumental in organizing several of the protests so far, and they're really well respected for progressive programs and initiatives. So we were excited to partner with them.

What have conversations been like with employees at the store? I imagine it's difficult not to discuss everything that's going on.

It is. I think like most independent record stores, [we are] filled with some pretty liberal, progressive folks. And so the things that are bothering one of us typically are bothering all of us. It's nice to have our own small community to rely on.

How are things going at the store generally?

I feel like we're continuing in the right direction so far. Front door business continues to grow. This last weekend started to feel a little bit more normal as far as traffic patterns, where you had people seemingly just out and about, shopping or running errands. And that was kind of what we've been missing up until now, so I hope that that continues to grow.

Are you allowed to have more people in the store now?

We're [at] about 20 right now, and I expect that we'll be moving into the second phase of our county's reopening plan, likely as soon as tomorrow -- or at least that's when the announcement will come -- and then that will lift pretty much everyone's capacity to 50%.

Are you still requiring people to wear masks in the store?

We are. We did lift the guidelines [so] customers aren't required to wear gloves based on some of the most recent CDC research. But they are still required to wear masks and I don't expect that to change anytime soon.

Once you move up to a higher capacity, I guess you probably want people to wear masks even more.

Even more, yes. And one of our guys has cystic fibrosis, so we tend to be super, super diligent about that.

I don't know if there's anything to this, but have you noticed any patterns as far as what people are purchasing now, or since the store reopened, that's different than what people were purchasing before? Or do you find that it's pretty much the same?

I think there are some things that have changed. Like for example, we've seen an uptick in demand for Tracy Chapman's first album, which clearly has lots of anthemic songs that are fitting for right now, and other music in that vein. You know, Curtis Mayfield and some of the other soul singers, we've certainly seen a rise in demand. There's been some recent reissues for Prince's catalog, so those have been popular. Some of these people who aren't with us anymore would certainly have quite a bit to say, I imagine.

Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that's that's happened since we last spoke?

I can't think of anything specific, except that we are hiring. One of our guys moved up north to be close to his family, and he took a different job. He was only about 20 hours a week. And then shortly before the pandemic struck, one of our fellows passed away from a heart attack, so I hadn't quite had [the chance] to deal with filling the gaps that he left, on a lot of levels.