Only two weeks ago business was booming at Strictly Discs in Madison, Wisconsin. But that was before the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. brought economic activity to a near halt and forced many small businesses to close their doors.
“The weekend prior was by far our biggest of the year,” says store owner Angie Roloff. “But this last weekend was where we felt things start to change.”
With concern around the coronavirus pandemic at a high and emergency shutdown orders across the country, many small businesses have been forced to closed up shop. Now a number of record stores, like Strictly Discs, are offering curbside pickup and delivery services as they try to continue business even as social distancing has become the new normal.
Before the virus hit the U.S., vinyl sales had been growing at a healthy rate in the U.S. and the first two months of 2020 had been kind to the Madison establishment. “But obviously,” says Roloff, “things have changed drastically.”
Other record stores around the country offering curbside pickup or delivery services for their customers include Waterloo Records & Video in Austin; Darkside Records in Poughkeepsie, New York; Fingerprints Music in Long Beach, California; and all three Greenroom Records locations in Oklahoma and Kentucky.
“We’re trying to goose it however we can and just let people know we’re there,” says Waterloo Records owner John Kunz. He says that while the store’s curbside business isn’t as robust as he had hoped, they’re doing everything they can to advertise the service, including placing sandwich boards on street corners.
Waterloo is not yet offering delivery but will consider it, he says, “We intend to be there, but … people have perhaps much more pressing needs.”
In Madison, Roloff is optimistic that her loyal customer base can help Strictly Discs weather the storm.
“I don’t know how people will feel in their pocketbooks as far as how comfortable people are going to feel spending money on things that are wants rather than needs,” she says. “But even in economic downturn we’ve always seen our business stay strong, and I think that’s because we’re a small ticket item and for a lot of people we’re therapy.”
For Roloff, curbside business has so far been relatively brisk, all things considered — a sentiment that’s echoed by Darkside Records co-owner Justin Johnson.
“We’ve got a lot of curbside orders between yesterday and today,” says Johnson, whose store is also offering delivery and free shipping on orders from its online store. “For the most part, people have been really cool and appreciative and, honestly, grateful. It’s sort of humbling.”
Despite the outpouring of support from regulars, the situation has already inevitably led to a downturn in business for record stores on the whole — and even some layoffs, which will hopefully be temporary.
“Currently all my part-timers have been laid off — temporarily, of course,” says Johnson. “And we’re staring down the barrel of whether or not we have to do that with our full-time employees as well.”
While many stores that Billboard spoke to are staying open for business as long as they can by offering curbside and delivery options, others, like Amoeba Records in Hollywood — which announced curbside pickups via Instagram on Tuesday before changing course a day later — are shutting down their physical locations completely as fears over the virus’ high rate of transmission ramp up.
Others, like Hogwild Records in San Antonio, Texas — whose owner Dave Risher tells Billboard he simply doesn’t have enough employees to offer curbside and delivery — are focusing on shipping from their brick-and-mortar locations.
As for those that are keeping in limited physical contact with customers, precautions to prevent transmission of the virus are high.
“We’ve got nitrile gloves all over the store for those employees who remain here,” says Johnson. “We’ve been wiping down everything with a bleach spray. We’re doing keyboards, credit card terminals, the table that’s at the front door, all the phones, just everything. Any surface that we’re coming regularly in contact with, we’re wiping down.”
These measure of course extend to the actual items being sold; Roloff notes that she’s packing vinyl records in paper bags and removing the plastic sleeves (coronavirus has been shown to survive for up to three days on plastic surfaces) and only handing items to drivers through passenger side windows to maintain a safe distance.
“I think these initial people who are doing [curbside] are just trying to support us,” says Roloff, who hopes that people continue taking advantage of the service as the country prepares for weeks and potentially months self-isolation and government-mandated shutdowns. “I think we’ll continue to see it grow,” she adds. “Who knows how long this will last, but potentially this might become a little bit of a new norm.”
Kunz is also trying to stay positive, even as the hurdles for small business owners nationwide continue to mount.
“We’re making it work,” he says. “But it’s just, man, one punch in the gut after another.”