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Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: ‘Our State Is Definitely Trending in the Wrong Direction’

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 Strictly Discs in a limited capacity.

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 every two weeks to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (Read the latest installment here and see the full series here.)

How are things going?

We’re fortunate and thankful, but when you talk about COVID generally, our state is definitely trending in the wrong direction. When we talked last, we were quote-unquote trending poorly, and now we’re in the group of 19 states that is classified as having uncontrolled spread. On the positive, at least, [Dane] County has seen cases going in the right direction at least for the last week, which perhaps is due to more people wearing a mask. I’m hopeful for that.

I know that the county actually enacted a mask order a couple weeks ago. So now if anyone comes in the store and says I don’t want to wear a mask, you can just say, “Well, it’s the law.” Right?

Correct. As I think is typical of our industry, we have a lot of people who stop at record stores when they’re traveling. And we’ve had a few people call to confirm both our hours and also what’s required of them to shop with us. And when they say, “Do I have to wear a mask?” and I say, “Well, actually you do in all of Dane County,” still a lot of people are surprised by that. So it’s clear that that’s not as commonplace around the state as it is around here.

Taylor Swift announced her surprise album last week, which is kind of a big deal for music retail. Do you have any idea when you would be receiving physical copies of the album?

I don’t know for certain just yet. The one thing with Taylor Swift is, I don’t know if she’s ever released an album that wasn’t a surprise. So it kinda feels like we’ve been to this rodeo before. But one of Wisconsin’s prized sons, Bon Iver, is on it, so I’m sure it will draw in fans in Wisconsin all around. But I haven’t gotten a ship date or a firm street date on it.

She hasn’t released an album that wasn’t a surprise? What do you mean?

It just feels like everything with Taylor Swift is choreographed in a last-minute sort of frenetic way. I’m sure it’s hard for her to keep things secret with the rabid fan base that she has, so I’m sure there’s lots of reasons for it. It certainly keeps people coming back for more.

Is her music typically a pretty good seller for you guys?

We always tend to sell her releases quite well on vinyl. And it’s nice, too, because it’s a good alternative, especially for young girls, that’s fairly clean. [As opposed to] like a Lana Del Rey or someone else who also appeals to that age group.

How’s business been?

Business has been surprisingly quite good. I guess that’s why when you asked me how things were, [I said] we just feel really, really fortunate. We can spend a lot of our time being concerned about what the trajectory of the economy and this virus is going to be and how it’ll impact Record Store Day and the fourth quarter, but at the end of the day, we’re still pricing records, ordering records, selling records and trying to be as optimistic as possible.

I’m curious, because the economy is so bad and a lot of people are out of work right now, have you noticed any kind of an uptick in people trying to sell records to you guys?

We do a couple things that impact how used collections ebb and flow, and one of them is direct mail marketing that we do targeting sellers. We’ve done a couple of those that have hit recently, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly whether it’s economic concern or just opportunity that’s driving that, but we have had a lot of used collections come in.

We talked last time that you guys were planning for Record Store Day. How are those plans coming along?

We had a staff meeting last week where everybody was either present physically or remotely. What we are looking at right now is an “RSD 2020 to-go” sort of model. In years past, the celebration is all about being in line, being in the store, and then taking your Record Store Day treasures home. This year, it’s going to be getting them home as quickly as possible. So we are actually right now — and things could change — but right now, we’re looking to have the physical store be closed for the morning of Record Store Day, and we would just be servicing folks outside. So they would come to the door, we would give them a form that they can fill out [with] their wish list and one of us would retrieve those items. Then they would go around the building to the side door that we have, and that’s where they would check out. So [we’re trying to] minimize any chance for bottlenecks inside the store.

Is there anything else that you wanted to mention?

The only thing I can think of is, for so many of us, 2020 is the year that’s been canceled or postponed or on hiatus. And the one positive for me and for Ron personally is Friday was opening day for the Chicago Cubs. When they were debating whether or not baseball was going to come back, it felt so strange, [but] I found that has given me something to look forward to.

Coronavirus

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