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. 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.)
We talked last time about how December is a really important month for you. How has business been the last couple of weeks?
It’s been good. Madison has a very strong ‘buy local’ spirit, and we’re really feeling that love this year. In addition, so many customers, either on the phone or in person, are asking how we’re doing with genuine concern. I think everybody realizes that we’re at a critical point for retail and restaurants and local establishments, and everybody is hoping that their favorites will stay.
That’s really heartening to hear, especially now with the pandemic, when it’s a lot more convenient and, I guess, safer for people to buy online or on Amazon.
We definitely feel that in our business. I hesitate who I say this to, but the warning that we all need to hear is that I don’t think any of us want to live in the United States of Amazon. If we’re not careful with how we spend our dollars, that’s the trend that we could be going towards.
How about curbside pickups? You previously mentioned those had been picking up a lot recently because of coronavirus numbers going up there. Have those continued to be a significant part of your business?
Yes. In general, people are approaching the season a little bit differently. People are calling or emailing ahead of time to make sure that we have what they need or want, and then a lot of times they’re either coming in very quickly to pick it up, or they’re doing curbside to minimize that interaction. It just seems like there’s a lot more of that on the front end than maybe years past. But definitely curbside is way up.
How about the appointment-only slots that you’ve opened up for customers? Have you seen a lot of people making those appointments?
We have. We have appointments every day that we’ve made them available. And at least in a couple of instances, I have seen regular customers that haven’t made it into the shop since COVID came about. This was an opportunity where they felt comfortable to come in, so that’s really been nice.
We’ve been talking for quite a while now. I talked to you the first time in March, actually, right when you guys had to shut down. Can you reflect on how you felt then, when you were first forced to shut down? Was there any part of you that felt like, “Oh my god, I don’t know if the store is going to survive this”?
Absolutely. I remember Ron was working at the warehouse with one of our guys, Eric, on the 14th, the day that we closed. And I texted them both. I’m like, “I just locked the door, and [then] I cried.” [Chokes up] You just have no idea. It was very stressful.
I hear you getting emotional, and I totally understand. This is your livelihood, and your life.
It is, and I also feel so much responsibility to do the right thing for all of our employees. That adds another layer of stress, and a lot of them have families. It was just something that we didn’t have any experience with, naturally. We don’t even close for blizzards.
Did you also feel like you needed to put on a brave face for your staff?
Definitely. I certainly don’t want them to pick up on my anxiety. So yeah, [after we closed] we just went into planning mode. The emotion that I would describe then was just anxiety, making sure that we were doing what we needed to do and being as aggressive as we could on the parts of the business that we could preserve. That [was] just adrenaline, it feels like, for about the next two months. I remember Ron would say, “Do you have pressure in your chest and shortness of breath?” You know, the two main COVID symptoms. I’m like, “Oh yes, all the time.”
Was there a point where you felt like, “Okay, I can relax a little bit now”?
Yes. I still felt [anxiety], but when we were able to bring some of the staff back, and I felt like we could handle customer requests — especially those for curbside and delivery — more effectively than when it was just me, that was a huge relief. All of a sudden we had a team back in place. We only had everybody at home for a couple of weeks, and thankfully, two of our main guys were willing to come back and take the risk of being here and doing what we were doing. That felt good.
What are your plans for Christmas?
I haven’t really even gotten that far. We’re open on Christmas Eve, a shortened day. And probably just cooking and have a fire and be at home will likely be the plan. Christmas Day is one of the four days a year we’re closed.
Aside from an end to the pandemic, at least as we’re living it right now, do you have any specific hopes for the new year?
Naturally I hope for everybody to be healthy, and for as may of us as possible to make it to the end of this. It’s hard not to be hopeful with the second vaccine getting approval. I think I just look forward to seeing people’s faces and resuming some of the things that we miss most, like hugging people and going out to dinner and toasting with cocktails. The little things. Travel and some of those bigger things are less of a priority than just taking a deep breath, without a mask on.
Do you think the pandemic will change the way you do business long term?
I think how we approach everything has changed, so it’s hard to imagine going back to a lot of the ways things were done before. People have gravitated to our website business. I think we’ll continue to see that. And I think, or I certainly hope, that this concept of buying local and supporting local will continue to really flourish. I hope that that’s something that has legs outside of the pandemic.