Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: 'Everybody's on the Extreme End of Being Tired'

Strictly Discs
Courtesy of Strictly Discs

Strictly Discs

The Madison record store owner Angie Roloff says it's "impossible not to acknowledge" the strain on retail employees as the coronavirus pandemic wears into its seventh month.

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 the store.

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 regularly to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (Read the previous installment here and see the full series here.)

How did Record Store Day go on Saturday?

It went really well. The same sort of pattern that we had with the first date worked well and seamlessly, and people were happy. And we did a give away five cases of New Belgium beer, [which] made people happy as well.

What were some of your big sellers?

Brandi Carlile is this year's Record Store Day ambassador, and she had a 12-inch that had two covers of Soundgarden songs. That was a really big seller for us. The Bill Evans was a big seller. There was the release by the Yardbirds that did really well.

One of the last times we spoke, we talked about how we couldn't see businesses including retail getting shut down again given that people are so used to having more freedom now. But Wisconsin is becoming a really big hotspot for the coronavirus. Are you are you at all worried that they may try to start shutting down businesses like yours or even just limiting capacity again?

I think the latter would be more reasonable. For example, in Madrid, where they have done some backtracking and "shutting down" of the city, they were still allowing people to go to work and they were still allowing retail and some food and beverage establishments to [remain open] under a little bit stricter guidelines. I have a feeling that might be more the way things go. But with the death count going up and the fact that we're the third highest case rate in the country, those are things that are really alarming.

Are you starting to feel a little bit more paranoid? I can imagine when you're hearing about the case counts going up, it might put you a little bit more on alert, just as far as being in the store and having customers coming in and out. 

I think probably for most folks in service or retail, there's a real palpable fatigue that's starting to take place. I think it would be impossible not to acknowledge it. We just come in contact with so many people, and I think for folks who aren't on our side of the counter, simple things like standing behind the plexiglass and being really respectful of folks who are working and their personal space so we can stay as safe as possible is really important.

Do you feel like people have generally been pretty respectful as far as giving the employees their space and all of that?

Yes and no. It's natural for people to try to talk to you as closely as possible. In music retail we obviously have music going on, and so sometimes some things can get lost with two people wearing masks and [standing on either side of] a plexiglass shield, but trying to get folks to stand behind them is certainly something that we're really cognizant of.

Do you have any employees who are expressing concerns of any kind?

Not specifically. With the two Record Store [Day] dates being so close together and the added responsibility and tasks for everyone paired with everything else that's going on locally and nationally, I think everybody's on the extreme end of being tired. But I think we're all still positive and glad to be doing what we're doing. It's nice that we have a tight-knit group, so there's a lot of trust amongst us, which helps.

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Let's try to end on a positive note. What good has been happening for you?

Especially in the period where we were shut down and so many other record stores and parts of the industry were [shut down], so many releases got pushed back or canceled. And in our industry right now, we're just seeing a flood of new music. So that part of it is great, because to say that there's something coming out almost every Friday for everyone is not a stretch at this point. There are incredible releases seemingly every day. Last week was the big vault release for Prince's Sign O' the Times, and people were just so excited to be taking that home. That's the fun part of what we get to do.

What are you listening to right now?

I'm listening to a lot of jazz, because that tends to kind of help me settle my mind. So a lot of instrumental music for me right now as I try to kind of decompress and think about positive things and try not to get mired in things we can't control.

I've been listening to a lot of jazz too, actually. I like it for when I'm working.

Bill Evans, Waltz for Debby. That's my favorite album. It's like a warm bath.