Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: 'Closing Again Would Be Hard for All of Us'

Strictly Discs
Courtesy of Strictly Discs

Strictly Discs

With coronavirus cases beginning to surge, owner Angie Roloff grapples with the prospect of shuttering the business again.

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 have reopened 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.)

The first time we spoke, you said you hoped there wouldn't be another surge. I know Wisconsin is seeing upticks in some counties. Are you worried?

Certainly, yeah. I think it's hard not to be.

Do you know if there's a spike in Dane County specifically?

They did just come out today with some statistics that showed we were averaging an increase of 47 cases a day, whereas it had been 17 at the highest point prior to that, I believe. So, a significant increase, yeah.

Are you still at 50% capacity?

Yep, that's what we're working with right now.

Being a small business owner has to be so challenging right now. On the one hand, you have to take people's health and safety into account. On the other, the survival of your business is at stake. How do you sort of wrangle with that in your mind?

I think we go back to the precautions that we took to reopen at all, and trust that what we're doing puts us in the best possible position to keep everyone safe and realize that, if that changes, or if those circumstances change, then we may have to as well. So it's certainly stressful. And the prospect of potentially closing again, however abstract that is at this point, is something that would be hard for all of us.

In Los Angeles I've noticed that there's been sort of a loosening of attitudes around wearing masks and social distancing, especially now that we're moving into the summer. Is that something that you're seeing on the streets in Madison, too?

I have to admit that I haven't been very many places, but in talking with some friends and customers, they have echoed that sentiment -- that they feel people are wearing [masks] less than they were in the past. It's not something that I have seen personally, and naturally, we're still requiring both customers and staff to wear them, so I don't see that here. But I fear that that might be the trend.

Have you noticed people having a looser attitude about social distancing and that kind of stuff inside the store?

Not that I've noticed. I'm trying to be firm when we can.

Have you had any instances where you had to be firm in the last week?

I really haven't. I've had a couple people get downstairs when we're busy. Either they might have missed the signs on the door saying that masks are required. If somebody gets all the way down here, we can provide them with one.

Is the University of Wisconsin–Madison scheduled to open back up in the fall?

They have proposed opening with some changes, as far as extending classes into the evening and over the weekends, still having a lot of virtual instruction and precautions for in-person instruction, especially lab classes and things that are required for people to be [there]. So right now they're moving forward with that.

Do you see a lot of university students in the store typically?

We do. There was a whole decade that they were largely absent, when we were still strongly in the CD business, and before the resurgence of vinyl. But yes, we do have a lot of young people in the store.

God forbid the university has to push back its reopening and resort to a virtual model again because there's a bigger spike in coronavirus cases. What would that mean for your business?

It's hard to say. It depends, I think, how many of the off campus residents and students would return to Madison to study, regardless of whether or not they're in the classroom. So I think if a lot of them returned to the apartments that they've rented, that might not be such a large impact for us. But in any event, if they go to a virtual model, we will definitely lose some students in Madison. We're already gonna probably lose most of our international students. So, certainly there's going to be changes regardless of what happens in the next couple months.

What has business been like since we last spoke?

This weekend felt like a normal summer weekend. I know I had indicated Friday was a big release day for us and for most stores nationwide. It was also Father's Day weekend, so both those things were big drivers, but our Friday was bigger than any Friday in June of last year, so it was a huge day. And we've continued to see things in that same vein throughout the weekend. So people were definitely out and about.

It sounds like the capacity restrictions aren't necessarily really affecting you at this point. 

Right. We're still doing deliveries and curbside too, so not everyone wants to come into the store just yet. So that accounted for a sizable portion of [business] as well.