Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: Enforcing Masks Will Be a Challenge

Strictly Discs
Courtesy of Strictly Discs

Strictly Discs

As Dane County prepares to lift all mask orders on June 2, store owner Angie Roloff is grappling with whether to continue requiring them in the shop.

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. After the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Evers' stay-at-home order in May 2020 -- ruling it "unlawful" and "unenforceable" -- the Roloffs and their employees reopened the store and have kept it running ever since.

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 changed for you since we last spoke?

Not a whole lot. Our staff is vaccinated, everybody's had their second shot, so that's clearly progress. And our county, it just came out last week, is leading the country for large counties as far as vaccination rates. Now, outside of our county, it can be a little bit of a different story, but that's always the case in Madison.

What's going on with mask mandates in Madison? 

There was some uncertainty after the CDC made their announcement last week, because we were still, in Dane County, and a couple others in Wisconsin, under a mask mandate. So last week, the county health department announced that they would hold a press conference announcing their plans.

Everyone that I had spoken to was expecting that they were going to follow the suit of so many other areas and just lift the mandate altogether, and they chose not to. They chose to announce that when the current health order that was in place, which expires on June 2 and does contain the indoor mask mandate, that they didn't intend to issue any more countywide health orders. So, in effect, it would expire on that date. The reason they stated that is they thought that by that time, approximately 75% of the county would be fully immunized.

How are you feeling about that?

Well, I was really relieved that they didn't just lift them quickly. There have been times where the orders have changed, especially when we were reopening, and sometimes they happened so quickly that I think a lot of business owners have felt a little flat-footed in responding to them. In this case, we were really glad that we have a couple of weeks to decide how we're gonna proceed.

Which way are you leaning as far as requiring masks in the store after June 2?

Well, I've been talking to our employees, talking to the other merchants on the street, talking to other record store owners, just kind of gauging how other people feel. I think I've mentioned to you that I knew this process would make me nervous, and I want to make sure that I'm not too conservative in how we approach it just because of me feeling fearful.

We have a couple of big dates coming up. We have both of those Record Store Day dates, and I know that we're going to handle those in the same way we handled the drop dates last year. We'll work the line outdoors, and we'll only open once the line is gone, because that worked so well and it really helped to minimize crowds inside the store. But it's hard to [imagine] how that might look if we have quite a few people in the store [after we open the doors that day] -- if that's gonna feel comfortable for folks if we don't have mask [mandates]. Definitely staff are going to wear masks -- it's just a matter of how we handle customers and making sure that they both feel comfortable, and that we aren't treading on their rights. I anticipate that enforcement is going to be challenging after the June 2 date.

Even in Madison? Because you've indicated in the past that it is a fairly liberal city.

It is, but we continue to get calls on occasion, and some frustration from customers, about wearing masks, and I just feel like that will amp up when the county order expires, and there'll be more questions of, "Why do I have to wear a mask here if the CDC and the county says I don't?"

Do you think that the CDC jumped the gun a little bit in making that recommendation?

It's really hard for me to know. Again, I approach this with a little bit more trepidation than I think many people do. I think with how this year-plus has gone, we're all conditioned to be a little bit more fearful of that risk, even if it's small. So I'm trying to take a measured approach, and talking to both staff and customers who may fall into higher-risk categories to get their perspective. And I'm just kind of starting that process. As I gather some of that information, some of them are comfortable with people not wearing masks. And I feel like if they are, then I should maybe start to feel a little bit more that way, too.

I don't anticipate rushing into anything on the [June] 2. I anticipate kind of looking and continuing to gauge how everyone's feeling in the time leading up to that, and then probably the weeks after. It feels like with June 2 being the lift, and June 12 being the first Record Store Day drop date, that we might as well just wait until after that to make any change.

I imagine the mask thing as a business owner is especially complicated because there are going to be people like you who are a little more cautious, and people who are less cautious.  Is there any fear that you could turn some of those more cautious people off and make them not want to come in the store if they see a bunch of people milling around without masks?

Absolutely. I feel that that is a real risk. Because we heard over and over again how much [people] appreciated how cautious we were, and the fact that, by all accounts, things were handled well. We didn't have any trace cases come back to us. So there's part of you that feels satisfied that that went so well, and maybe hesitant to change course because it's been successful. But I do believe in science, and when it points to the fact that we can make changes, I feel like we should. So the very short answer is, I have no idea what we're going to do. It's great that things are going so much better, though, so I have to keep reminding myself to celebrate the victory.