Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: New Stimulus Checks Had No 'Ripple Effect' on Sales

Strictly Discs
Courtesy of Strictly Discs

Strictly Discs

Though the shop saw a bump in sales following the first round of stimulus checks last summer, it didn't observe the same effect this time.

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.)

What's been happening over the last month or so?

We've just kind of settled into a pattern of this being the norm. In the past...I just kept thinking that, "Oh, when we get through this, it'll seem easier." First it was the election, and then the holidays, then with all the tumult of the Capitol insurrection. Then it was the inauguration. I think maybe I should stop pointing to a date and time and thinking that things are going to feel better, because it seems like that's just a moving target."

These coronavirus variants, I guess the British one in particular, have been popping up all over the country. I believe it's been identified in Wisconsin now too. Does that make you more concerned about having customers in the store even with masks?

Not any more than we have been. I feel like I don't know a whole lot about that, and maybe that's why so many of us feel anxious because there's so much unknown about this...but I wouldn't say anything has changed with the new variants, it's just a new thing to have in the back of your brain that kind of unsettles you.

Have you thought about upgrading your mask or anything like that?

I don't know if you're familiar with the publication Cook's illustrated, but they have a test kitchen where they...test everything from a spatula to olive oil and rate it on all these qualities. Well, they did it for masks. And the company that won was a company that makes scrubs as their main product...and I did order some of those for Ron and I, and they are really thick. When I wear it -- and I do wear that one, especially if I know the store is going to be busy -- it does really muffle your speech and makes it a little harder for people to understand. But I guess that's the tradeoff for being a little safer.

Obviously we have this new relief package that was signed into law at the end of the year. Do you guys qualify for any PPP loans or any other assistance under the new package?

I think we will. We [were] working on that last week with our bank. Despite the fact that our bank is based in Wisconsin, they're still larger, so they weren't part of the initial rollout with the SBA that was trying to get community banks an opportunity to help their customers. And so that just opened to our bank and its customers this week, so we've been working on that. Nothing definitive, but I do think that we will qualify for something.

Do you have any idea what you might qualify for?

I don't yet. I should know more next week.

Do you guys qualify for a stimulus check, and if so have you received it?

With us, the shop is an S Corporation. And so all of the revenue for the store kind of shows up on our tax returns, even though it's not direct income. So we do not qualify. It's interesting, because when the first stimulus check came, it was naturally when we were closed. But you could really see a spike with some of the online platforms that we sell on. It's like, "Oh boy, people got their checks today or yesterday." And with this one, there really wasn't that sort of ripple effect that you could feel. I'm not sure that's because people are in more need, so the ones that really needed it are spending it on bills and essentials and not the things that we sell.

Was there anything else that you wanted to mention?

In the time since we talked, Ron went on a buy out of state, which hasn't happened since we were closed in March. He went to Buffalo, New York on a large buy, he'd been talking to this fellow for a few years. So that was a little surreal, and it went fine, and he's home and safe and sound. So some things are returning to normal, [but] not very many.

It must have been a pretty good collection.

You know, it's so hard sometimes when you're talking to someone who has thousands and thousands of records, because sometimes they don't always have a full grasp on what they have, and sometimes it just gets to a point where you've just gotta go and look at it and hope that it'll be worthwhile.

So I take it it was worthwhile to drive out there.

Yes...he came back with a sizable amount of records, and that's always a good thing.

Would you be able to tell me how much you guys paid?

I actually haven't seen the final figures. I know we only got about 3,000 records, so it wasn' know, this fellow has more than 40,000 records.

In a typical year, how many trips would Ron take to look at collections in person?

In a typical year, he's on the road almost every week, whether it's a couple of hours away, or further. But he tends to cast the net pretty far, and that's one of the things that we kind of switched the focus when he got out from behind the counter was to do just that. And hopefully grab some records that wouldn't otherwise make it to Madison. I know he was definitely itching to get on the road, so even though it was a bit surreal and eating takeout in a hotel room every night and that sort of non-conventional road trip, I think it was still good.

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