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 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.)
I was reading that Wisconsin set a one-day record for new coronavirus cases the other day. Does that worry you?
It definitely does. I have tried to take a little bit of a different approach as far as trying not to go down the rabbit hole of reading too much and getting too worried, because I know I can’t necessarily impact that change, and I just try to focus as much as I can on what’s positive. Otherwise I do kind of tend to get myself worked up and stressed and depressed in a way that isn’t necessarily productive. But certainly nothing seems to be going in the direction we all want.
I do feel like part of it is just kids being back at school, right?
It sure seems like it. And I know the university has even messaged students in the last couple days, threatening that they might have to take more severe actions if things don’t start to move in the right direction. So we’ll see when and if some of those decisions come down. But then they’re gonna play football, so the whole thing is confusing. Something like 42 of our football players have tested positive [for the coronavirus], so it makes you scratch your head a little bit on how this is gonna work. I worry about the long term effect [of the virus] on some of these kids, but I know a lot of them want to play because they’re scholarship kids and they want to prove themselves and I totally understand that too.
Last time we spoke, you said that you’d noticed a little bit of an improvement in delivery times for the post office. I’m wondering if anything’s changed since then.
No, I think in general things have been largely good. Occasionally someone will message saying, “I haven’t gotten this. Should I be concerned?” And you can tell that certain hubs or certain regions get slowed down or sorting facilities get closed temporarily and so that can create a little bit of a slowdown. And international parcels are still really slow. But otherwise I think we’re seeing improvements with domestic packages.
I was reading that vinyl sales actually outpaced CD sales in the first half of this year for the first time since the ’80s. Is that a trend you’ve noticed at your store as well?
That’s really been a trend for us for the last five years, where vinyl outsells CDs. Obviously there are some marketplaces, if you think of some of the big box stores, that only sell CDs or primarily sell CDs. Sometimes that can really drive those CD numbers for big releases like a Taylor Swift, where a lot of folks might buy it on an endcap from a big box store. I think most indies have been leaning towards or leaning vinyl-heavy for probably about the same amount of years as we have. They’re definitely the driver in the indie retail sector.
Before I hopped on the phone with you, I was thinking how you have seemed to have really weathered this pandemic remarkably well, all things considered. I know it was a huge worry when this first started that the it was going to really impact your business in a severe way. What are you hearing from other people who own record stores?
I’ve mentioned in the past that we’re part of a broader coalition, and so I often hear from those folks and we have some forums that we can communicate through. I think by and large, at least in that group of stores, people are cautiously optimistic and pleasantly surprised, because I think everybody fears the worst. The other thing I think that has benefitted music, and also book retailers, is that people, as they turn inward and have time, potentially can justify the expenditure for those items that aren’t very expensive. I think we’ve seen both of those sectors of the entertainment industry grow wildly. Some folks have even talked about the success of Record Store Day, the first one, was [because] people still want to celebrate, or at least be part of, the music community. And for the foreseeable future, concerts and festivals aren’t on the horizon. So this is a way to connect with like-minded people.
Is there anything else that you wanted to mention?
We’ve got the second [Record Store Day] drop a week from this Saturday so the the 26th of September, and we’re planning to do that mostly the same way we did the August date. So again, having people check out outside. We’re trying to add in some of the fun things that we [normally] do on Record Store Day, like really exciting used records that we’ll put out that day. We normally have a brewery in town that brews a special beer for us that we can pour while people are in line. And that brewery is going to give us cans to give away so people can hopefully take that party home. We’re trying to build some of the fun part of it back in, since we felt like the first one went smoothly and we can can manage a little bit more.