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Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: 'The End Might Be in Sight'

Strictly Discs
Courtesy of Strictly Discs

Strictly Discs

As vaccines continue to roll out, Angie Roloff looks forward to a mask-free future.

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 the last time we spoke?

Well, I've taken to calling it like six degrees of vaccination, as far as knowing people who have gotten one or two doses. And the news on [the late May] availability of vaccines for anybody who wants it I think has been a real game changer for most of us here at the shop this week.

Who's able to get a vaccine in Wisconsin at this point?

Everybody that's 65 and older. And then they moved it down to some frontline workers, [including] some grocery workers. Certainly pharmacy and health care workers qualify. The thing that's different in Wisconsin, even from some of our neighboring states, is in how they've set up who qualifies. Some folks under 65 with preexisting conditions have not yet become eligible. So there's some head scratch[ing] on that, but they have to come up with some sort of guidelines. And they've just started vaccinating teachers in a concerted large scale effort, so that's also great.

Do you have any clarity on when you might be able to get the vaccine?

I don't. Technically, I believe we fall into the category of 1C, and they're vaccinating 1B right now. But then you hear...for example, a longtime customer who is retired military, the VA hospital had extra vaccines. So even though he's not over 65, they called him, he went in yesterday and got a dose. So there's lots of situations like that where, you know, a pharmacy may have some extra doses at the end of the day so they offer it up to customers or acquaintances or other people rather than wasting it. So I think it's a little bit all over the place.

Obviously states like Texas and Mississippi have opened things up completely, but have you seen a loosening of any other restrictions in the past few weeks in Wisconsin as cases have started to go down?

They've started to talk about some gatherings inside and outside, and some of those regulations have increased as far as the size of those, depending on whether or not food and beverage is served. I haven't followed that real closely, but there haven't been any changes for retail, and I think they're just starting to talk about some changes perhaps to restaurants and bars. But in our [record store] coalition, there's two stores in Texas, and we happened to have a Zoom town hall. They were both on it, and it's really scary for them down there.

Especially in the beginning of the pandemic, I would ask you if you'd had any incidents with customers in the store over the mask requirement. Over the past year, have you had any serious incidents like that?

Very, very few and far between. For the most part, when we have asked folks to either wear a mask or wear a mask appropriately, covering both their nose and mouth, people have been very agreeable. In the last week, we've had a couple of calls from folks asking if we require masks, and at least in one of those situations the customer said, "Well, I'll come in when the mask mandate is lifted." Which is fine. They clearly for whatever reason didn't want to wear one. But you know, we're certainly not loosening our stance on any of that.

Well, that was nice of them to call first. They could have just showed up.

That's very true.

I was trying to think of things to ask you about today, and there was one thing that did strike me. I don't know if there's anything to this, but TikTok has become this huge driver of streaming activity for older songs. Like you had the Fleetwood Mac situation where "Dreams" was in that viral TikTok, and then streams surged, it got back on the Billboard charts, the album was back on the charts. I'm just wondering if you've seen any sort of activity that was driven by TikTok as far as physical sales in the store?

Well we've always sold a lot of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. I will say, this holiday season, I think the impact of that video was palpable. You could really feel people going for that album because of that.

Did it seem like even younger people who maybe wouldn't have necessarily been familiar with Fleetwood Mac were buying it too?

Absolutely.

What's been selling well for you lately?

All new records it feels like, recently. Lots of hip-hop and soul, but then classic catalog is really selling at an incredible rate. I think that's reflective of an even younger demographic getting into vinyl. So they might be buying Billie Eilish and Harry Styles, but they're also buying [the] Beatles' Sgt. Pepper or The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds or the Fleetwood Mac record.

One of the records that's been kind of a sleeper now for months is the Black Pumas record. You know, they won a Grammy last year, they're nominated for Grammys this year...But that album just comes across the counter it feels like four or five times a day on the weekend. They only have the one album, but it's been really well received. Their manager, who is now based in Austin, Texas and has his own promoting company used to be an employee of ours. So I always get a little joy when someone buys it.

Is there anything else you wanted to mention?

I think this is the first time in this process of us talking that I do feel optimistic. I should knock on some wood right now. But it feels like maybe at least part of the end might be in sight.

I agree. I've been feeling pretty good lately. The cases are still high obviously, but knowing that vaccines are here, and with Biden saying that everyone will have access by May, is really encouraging.

Me too. Because even the last estimate of end of summer, or August, that feels so far away. I know we can keep doing what we're doing...but end of May feels like that'll be here in no time. We know it's not going to be a return to whatever normal was, but to be able to have supper with some friends, or as a group take our masks off when the store is closed, would be like a small victory.

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