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 Governor 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 are preparing to reopen Strictly Discs in a limited capacity for the first time since mid-March.
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 each week to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (See the full series here.)
How are you doing?
I think all things considered, we’re doing well. The hardest part of this process has been the very beginning, before our governor put a safer-at-home mandate on the state. Both myself and a lot of our staff had concerns about safety. In the end we closed a week prior to when we would have to. That was the hardest part, just because of the uncertainty of knowing what the right decision was. And then earlier this week, without any warning, the governor lifted some of the restrictions on retail that had been scheduled to go through Memorial Day without any notice.
What does that mean, exactly?
The first safer-at-home mandate strangely allowed for deliveries for what was determined [to be] non-essential businesses, but they weren’t allowing curbside pickup. So, we had to shift our model, because we had been doing the curbside pickup before that officially went into place, and then switch it over to actually delivering to people’s homes. And then he lifted that portion and allowed curbside pickup for all non-essential businesses. So, we went back to doing that, of course messaging our customers with each of these changes. And then, I believe Monday, he allowed freestanding retail or strip mall retail to have five customers at a time.
I assume you fall under that?
We do. We’re in an old shopping district in a hundred-year-old brick building. We have street access, so that does apply to us.
How have you been dealing with that?
We haven’t opened yet. And that’s mainly because we had anticipated that we would have at least a couple more weeks before that would even be an option. We had started to get some things rolling as far as plexiglass shields and some of the protective gear that we would need, both for us and potentially for customers who would come without it. We have a shield on order, but that’s not gonna be done until next week. We wouldn’t want to open without that, naturally, because we our space is tight here, like a lot of record stores. We’re retrofitting another piece of plexiglass that we had for the short term, and it’s actually getting hung upstairs right now.
We bought an air purifier for downstairs and we bought UV lights that are purported to be good at disinfecting and killing bacteria and all sorts of bad stuff. We’ll do that each night after we close. We ordered new gloves and we got a bunch of disposable masks because we are going to require customers to wear both. Since we have to limit five people in the store, we got chalk paint to mark where people can stand outside that’s six feet apart. Lots of things like that that we’re hoping will minimize frustration on the customer side, because sometimes people take a little while in a record store. I have absolutely no certainty of even how many people will want to go out and be shopping.
When are you planning on reopening?
Right now, we’re tentatively thinking about Friday. But in order to do that, I’d have to make sure that everybody’s 100% comfortable with what we’ve put in place so far.
How was business with the curbside and delivery services?
That business has been really brisk. I feel super fortunate that we already had a full e-commerce website, so we didn’t have to retrofit anything. We were just ready to go and ready to send customers there. And we had pretty much all of our used vinyl inventory accessible on one platform or another as well. It’s enough to keep us on our [feet], for sure. I was surprised to see that people’s reaction [to the pandemic] was, ‘You know, a new record maybe will give me a lot of joy and it’s not that much, so I’m gonna get it.’
After this happened, [one of our customers] asked [my husband] Ron and I to assemble a crate of random records because one of the things he wanted to do with his kids who were homeschooling is have them do research on these records. Not only listening to them but trying to determine value. Ron put that on Instagram of him delivering this crate of records to our customer John, and all of a sudden people started requesting these boxes of records. We call them ‘randos.’ [We’ve sold] over 250 of those.
Can you talk about the employment situation at the store? How many employees do you currently have on staff, and how many have you been forced to furlough or lay off?
We didn’t have anybody reporting to our physical store initially, and part of that was just fear and uncertainty about what was safe and keeping everybody safe. We did have a couple of our part timers still working out of our warehouse, because that’s a much larger space with lots of distinct workplace areas, so you can be there without hardly interacting with anyone except coming in and out. And my husband was working there.
After about three weeks, when the second safer at home order was extended and we realized that this was going to be a while, we brought back two of our full timers to the store. Our shipping clerk is working probably 35 hours a week, out of his home. And then we still have the part timers at the warehouse.
It sounds like sales have been relatively brisk. Have you had to apply for any assistance?
We did get some of the PPP funding.
How much PPP funding did you receive?
That’s not my realm. Our accountant would be the fellow for me to ask about that because he’s managing all of that. But I think it was whatever you could apply for. So, it was two and a half times one month of payroll. I know we have to spend 75% of that on payroll. And given some staff limitations, I don’t know if we’ll end up using all of that. We still have several weeks left, so we’ll see what that looks like. I just hope we don’t have a resurgence and we have to close again. That is the morale buster that I’m not prepared for.
Have you been able to stay current with your rent and your bills and your vendors?
We try to run our business in a really tight fashion, so I don’t carry any accounts payable. I pay all of my inventory every month at month’s end. Our largest [supplier] — I had some product here that we no longer were able to sell, and it looked like it was gonna be awhile before we were able to do so, and so I just called her up and said, ‘Can I get an extra return allowance for some of these CDs?’ And she’s like, ‘Absolutely.’ I think when you make their life easy, they’re more attuned to helping you. We’re current with everything, and trying to still be in a good spot, or the same sort of spot when we come out of it.
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Outside the #shopscenes: Now this is creative. A customer called and asked if we could put together a $50 box of random used records. He figured since he was now home schooling his kids that it would be a valuable lesson in music for his young children and it’d be fun too! Well, the next thing you know… Contact the shop for your own curated crate. Thanks Jon, you’re the coolest dad on the block. Stay strong, be safe & have #hope. . . . . . . . . . . #curbsidepickup #delivery #love #faith #noproblem #creative #fast #homeschool #home #athome . . . . . . . . . . #strictlydiscs #madisonwi #vinyl #vinyllover #vinyladdict #vinyllover #vinyljunkie #vinylcollection #vinyligclub #vinylcommunity #vinylcollectionpost #vinylcollector #recordcollector #records #recordstore #recordoftheday #cimsmusic #music #recordstoredayus