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Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: ‘Right Now It Doesn’t Really Feel’ Like Things Will Turn Around

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.)

You guys are getting slammed with coronavirus up there.

Yes, we are.

What’s changed for you since we last spoke?

Things have changed, and then things have reversed course a little bit. The governor had placed some extra regulations on a statewide basis that would have required retail as well as restaurants and bars to observe a 25% capacity. That was then overturned, and so we’re back to functioning under our county’s regulations, which in some ways were more strict than the statewide stipulations, especially when it comes to restaurants and bars. But that allowed our retail capacity to go back up to 50%. That’s a lot easier for us to enforce on Fridays and Saturdays. Last weekend was 25%. We did have to limit people at times coming into the store, and we naturally would do that again if we felt that the store was too crowded or not safe. We played it really tight to the rules last Saturday and we did have to hold people up a bit. Now in some ways, we’re back to status quo, 50% capacity. Which for us is a lot of people, so that’s not something that we need to necessarily limit folks coming in through the front door.

How many people is 50% capacity for you?

Thirty. And we’re a really small store, so 30 people in here, especially if they’re either all upstairs or down, can feel like a lot of people.

So with the 50%, you’re not anticipating that you’re going to need to have a queue forming outside this weekend?

I don’t believe so. The days it would really be an issue are, for example, the Record Store Day drop date. But we’re already working that line outside, and we’re gonna continue to do that next week, which is the third drop date. So I don’t believe it will be an issue for us, but of course we’re prepared if it is.

I’m assuming you’re just handling everything the same for this Record Store Day, since the first two Record Store Days went so well for you?

We aren’t gonna do anything different, and right now that’s the plan for Black Friday as well, [though] once we get to the end of November, weather can be a little bit of an issue.

What are your feelings right now with everything happening in the state, with the capacity restrictions and then the reversal of that? It’s almost like whiplash that you’ve been dealing with.

It is. Things are, just like they have been from the beginning of this process, ever changing. And we try to just respond to what’s in front of us on that given day, especially with how things have flip-flopped at times. I think we would all prefer to see kind of an overarching policy that addressed this issue that is so scary and certainly alarming for our state and our city. That would give us some hope that this was going to turn around. And right now it doesn’t really feel that way.

What are what are some of the big releases this week?

Today, probably one of the biggest archival releases of the year was Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, which was only pressed once, and those pressings are very, very scarce and very, very expensive. For a lot of people, Wildflowers, you hear often that it’s their favorite Tom Petty album. This one came out today in a slew of versions, including one nine-LP set. Even just the basic package of three LPs is how Petty initially planned the album to be released, and it was never released in that full concept. So that was a big one for today.

I was looking at your Instagram and I noticed you actually ended up getting more signed Taylor Swift CDs.

I think we got them four different times. It was always one of those things that we’d find out the night before or maybe a couple of days before, and they would just want us to promote it once they were actually in hand. So it did feel a little bit like Groundhog Day, but people were so excited, and Taylor Swift fans are a very, very kind and appreciative bunch. So it was a nice promotion to get to do more than once.

Did you sell out pretty quickly with all those?

We did. The very last round, we had them for a few days and that was nice because not everybody sees those posts right away and can come down right away to pick it up, so it was nice to have them for some regular customers.

Is there anything else that you wanted to mention?

We have a county organization, just like most cities and counties do, called Dane Buy Local, because the county we’re in is Dane County. They do all sorts of promotions and just generally trying to heighten people’s awareness about shopping local, buying local, the power that that gives to our community with those dollars staying in the community. And they had their annual awards yesterday, [which] were virtual. We were nominated for an award, which we did not win, which was fine, it was great to be nominated. But it was the award for “Lemonade Maker.” With this process, it feels like that’s kind of like what we do every day, is try to take lemons and make them into something that people can enjoy.

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