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Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: ‘We’ve Seen an Uptick In Traffic Just About Every Day’

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. (Read last week’s installment here and see the full series here.)

Dane County moved into phase 2 of reopening this Monday, correct?

It did, yes.

What does that mean for your store?

It doesn’t mean a whole lot has changed for us. Technically, capacity for Dane County businesses is now at 50%. The county doesn’t determine capacities for retail spaces, only for restaurants, so it’s still based on comfort and social distancing and making sure that we have enough space for everyone. So really, not a whole lot in that regard has changed, except more people are out and about.

I’m assuming you’re still requiring customers to wear masks.

We are.

Have any of your customers so far refused to wear one, or taken it off when they’re in the store or anything like that?

I haven’t had any issues. I also haven’t been real confrontational. Like for example, if it’s not covering someone’s nose, I haven’t asked them to adjust it. I kind of chalk it up to a certain level or percentage of fallibility, so to speak. I did have one young fellow [come in without a mask]. [My employee] Evan was working at the counter and I think he was tied up with a couple of customers and he didn’t notice. So I explained the policy and he went up and got one of the disposable ones that we have for free and came back down with no problem.

Are you getting a little bit more business now with the easing of restrictions?

Yes, I would say even since we spoke a week ago, we’ve seen an uptick in traffic just about every day.

How close to normal do you feel that you are business-wise?

If you’d asked me last week, I’d say we were right around 70% of gross dollars compared to last year’s June. And I think at the rate that we’re going right now, we’re closer to 80%. So that’s definitely a move in the right direction.

Are you still offering curbside and delivery?

We are, yes.

Has that remained pretty robust, or has business shifted to people coming inside the store more?

It’s a combination. [Friday, June 19] is probably the biggest release day we’ve had for our shop since we reopened, with Neil Young and Bob Dylan and Phoebe Bridgers [albums] all coming out. We have somewhere between 12 and 15 deliveries tomorrow based on folks ordering some of that product.

We spoke a little bit last week about your employee, Mike Bailey, who died of a heart attack just before the pandemic, and I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk more about him.

Mike was probably the biggest music enthusiast I knew. In 2018, he challenged himself to see 150 concerts in the calendar year. Which, even for all of us who love live music, that’s quite an undertaking. He had a vast collection of music and CDs. He loved indie rock, and his lifetime partner had a rescue dog named Tweedy — he loved Wilco. He was a kind, gentle man and he’s certainly missed.

When did he pass away?

Right at the end of February. Ron and I were able to go to the service. He was from a town up on Lake Superior, about three hours north of here, so we were the only ones from the shop that were able to go. We were in the process of planning, with his partner Andie and his really good friend Matt, a memorial or celebration here at the shop for shortly thereafter, and we still haven’t been able to do it, naturally.

What has it been like grieving a loss like that in the middle of everything?

I think sometimes, when your day is filled with so many things, you don’t have an opportunity to really think about it and reflect. And I feel like unfortunately that’s where we’re at. Just to the point where, you know, maybe his absence really hasn’t set in.

It sounds like you just haven’t even had an opportunity to really grieve in the way that you need or want to.

Absolutely not. And his partner Andie, I haven’t seen her since the funeral, which makes me sad. I know that she’s really struggling with how sudden his passing was. And that’s just one of those things where you feel bad that you’re not there for someone, even though you can’t be.

How long did he work at the shop?

That’s an interesting question because it wasn’t that long. He’d only been with us about nine months. He had been a dean at a for-profit media institute that closed in Madison. And so he was floating about a little bit, trying to decide what he was going to do next, and he’d always been a longtime customer [with] deep industry roots. We started meeting with him to see if it would be something he was interested in, and lo and behold, it was. So it was kind of a match made in heaven.

Have you started thinking about when you might want to do a memorial for him in the store? I imagine it would probably be hard to do right now.

We haven’t yet. Ron and I have still been in conversation with Andie and also his friend Matt, and we’re just taking it one day at a time. We are in the process, and we have been for a little while, of creating a subscription service where we would — much like the Secretly Society or Vinyl Me, Please — provide something that would be a monthly fulfilled item. Right now we’re planning to have one of those options be “the Bailey”, which would focus on indie rock and some of the things [Mike] was so passionate about.

That’s a nice way to honor him.

Yeah, and it’s something that would be ongoing and some more people would get to know what he loved so much.

Is there anything else you wanted to mention?

We are expanding our hours next week, so we’ll have full weekend hours, which will include Friday until 8 p.m. We haven’t had any evening hours [since the pandemic]. And then extending to 6 p.m. the rest of the days, so we can get people who are trying to get here after work. We’re going to see how that goes, and I anticipate that we’ll kind of hold steady with those [hours] probably through at least the middle of the summer and see where we go.


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