Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: 'We're Seeing an Uptick' in Curbside Pickups

Strictly Discs
Courtesy of Strictly Discs

Strictly Discs

Though COVID-19 cases seem to have plateaued in Wisconsin (for now), store owner Angie Roloff says many customers are exercising more caution as the pandemic tightens its grip across the U.S.

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 Gov. 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 are things going out there?

It seems like recently things have been for the most part stable, as far as increased case counts and hospitalizations. So not good nor terrible, I would say. [We're] now waiting to see what the effect might be a week or so from Thanksgiving.

How was your Thanksgiving, now that we're on the subject?

It was good. It was different than normal. Typically, Ron and I go somewhere for his family Thanksgiving and then usually to my mom's. So we typically do two Thanksgivings in one day, which can be a lot of travel and a lot of food. But this year we were just home, just the two of us. We did cook Thanksgiving [dinner], which was nice, and we had some really good friends come over in the morning for mimosas and we socially distanced around a fire outside.

I know you guys had your big Black Friday event at the store. How did that go?

It went really well. That was essentially the same size [as Record Store Day] events. So, at this point, we felt like we kind of had it down as far as our process outside and how we were filling requests and checking people out outside. We made pretty quick work of the line, so people didn't have to wait outside too long. For us, anytime we have a really good sell-through rate on those exclusive products, that's also a victory.

We've had some new retail restrictions put in place in L.A. specifically, where it's 20% capacity now. Have you guys have seen anything like that there?

We haven't seen anything change, but certainly we have some coalition stores in California -- like, for example, a store in San Jose that's looking at 10% capacity. That certainly changes how you approach the holiday season. So far [we haven't] had any county-wide changes to that, so we're still at 50%, which is a robust number for us.

How do you feel about putting restrictions on retail businesses that require masks and social distancing, as Strictly Discs does? In my estimation, it seems like a lot of the transmissions are happening either in indoor restaurants or people congregating inside homes without masks. Do you think retail is really deserving of that level of shutdown like your friend saw in San Jose, for example, or do you feel like that's overkill?

It's a challenging question, because I certainly would never vote for retail being open if it negatively impacted folks' health or lives negatively. But I certainly think with the protective measures in place, we can do so with quite a bit of safety and assurance. So I think 50% is a good number for us, and I would think that for most other municipalities that have good mask compliance and other compliance with general social distancing and all of that, that we'd like to see retail stay open.

Obviously the holidays is a big time for retail, and I'm assuming you see a pretty good uptick in sales in December. Is that fair to say?

We do, yes. Our sales just continue to go up as we get closer to the Christmas holiday, and that's mainly because we're a smaller-ticket item. So a lot of people will purchase some of the larger-ticket gift items and then they fill in as we get closer to the holidays. Christmas Eve is usually one of our busiest days of the season.

A lot of businesses are really depending on that foot traffic in their stores this month. Are you worried about that at all, with the capacity restrictions you have in place there?

I'm not too worried about people not being able to get into the store. I'm more concerned about folks who may opt out of going to stores out of an abundance of caution. And so we're trying to make ourselves available in ways that folks [will] feel comfortable using our services. We're seeing an uptick in phone calls and emails and curbside pickup. I think all those things will be important in trying to perhaps be more of a concierge service for folks who don't want to come to the store.

Have you continued your delivery service?

We have, yes. We also just rolled out appointment shopping for the hour before we open, with a cap of five folks in the store at a time for people who want to make sure they know what the atmosphere will be like when they come in. We had a few folks reach out and say that they were high risk or someone in their household was high risk, and they still wanted to come in and actually browse, but they wanted to do so with the assurance that they wouldn't come in and there were, you know, 25 other people shopping. We went with a scheduling software so they can book a time.

I noticed on your Instagram that the store had is 32nd anniversary on November 7. Would you say this is the most challenging chapter in its history?

Definitely. We thought three years ago, when we had a very major road construction project, that that would be the most challenging year, but of course none of us could anticipate what this one has been like.

How is your family doing? I know you suffered a loss recently, as we talked about last time, and I'm sure Thanksgiving was difficult.

I think with all things considered, people are doing well. My mom and my sister got together, their families, for Thanksgiving. Ron and I didn't feel like that was something that we should do, especially given the amount of contact that we have here at the store, so we passed on that. But we at least got to talk to them. I think especially for parents and for folks who have grandparents, I think it can be a hard time when they don't get to see their loved ones. But you know, there's lots of positive news for the summer and so hopefully we can just hold on until then.

Is there anything else that you wanted to mention?

The one thing that has changed since last time that I think is a real positive for our county is that we now have community-accessible rapid testing sites. That's something as a business owner [that's] a real positive. Especially if one of us were to feel ill or to test positive, the rest of us could get tested in a more expedient way and hopefully lessen the impact on the business.

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