Strictly Discs in Wisconsin, in a Pandemic: Delta ‘Just the Beginning’ If Vaccinations Don’t Improve

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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. After the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Evers’ stay-at-home order in May 2020 — ruling it “unlawful” and “unenforceable” — the Roloffs and their employees reopened the store and have kept it running ever since.

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.)

How was Record Store Day?

Much, much better than June. That wouldn’t take a whole lot, but it went smoothly. There were very few hiccups. There were a couple of titles from June that were bumped to July that the distributor missed, but I caught that early enough thanks to some of my coalition friends who I quickly asked, “Do have these titles?” And they all resoundingly answered yes, and so I realized I had a problem and they were able to fix it. So that was good. And compared to June, it was a minor blip.

It sounds like everything went really well. Were you able to do sort of the full enchilada, in the sense of offering all the fun stuff for people waiting in line?

For both the June and July date we poured beer and we had either doughnuts or bacon outside, so that was definitely a return to normal. One of the advantages of some of the changes that we’ve made due to the pandemic, and I know we’ve talked about it, is we did this menu [for Record Store Day titles] outside, and we fill people’s requests, and then they check out outside. I don’t at this point see us ever going back from that system. People love it, it goes really smoothly, it goes quickly, and then people can get in here and shop in a normal way. Usually, we would have a line the entire day. And now we can knock through the line and get everybody their product in a couple of hours. So that’s kind of one of the advantages, just because we’re a tight store. So some of those kind of changes have been good.

The Delta variant is now becoming a thing of course, and has been for awhile actually. Do you know what the vaccination rate in your county is?

I think we are just shy of 70 percent. Just a couple ticks below.

That’s pretty good.

It is. It does feel good. I wish it was higher, it seems like we’ve kind of plateaued everywhere. But that’s at least a good number.

How are you feeling right now with this more contagious variant circulating now? We hear all these stories in the news about breakthrough infections. I know that’s rare, but I think the cumulative effect of hearing all these anecdotal stories is anxiety-inducing for some people. Are you worried?

I think a little bit of both. I’m worried, but then I’m also optimistic. I do have some concerns about the return to school and the fact that young kids haven’t been able to be vaccinated and what that’s going to mean as far as concern amongst their parent groups. I think the fall is the real issue. For now, I feel like we’re in a good place. I just am not sure exactly what will happen [in the fall]. If we don’t improve vaccination rates nationwide, I feel like the Delta variant may just be the beginning, because I think it’ll just keep going. I guess that’s my fear, to be on this roller coaster. I think we’re super fortunate to be in the county that we are, but obviously this disease doesn’t care about what county you’re in.

I know you stopped requiring masks in the store. Are you considering requiring them again?

I know some of the stores in Texas that I communicate with, they are now requiring masks just because their outbreaks are on the rise. I haven’t considered any change right now, but I would be surprised if we don’t see one at some point.

I had heard rumblings that the Fearless (Taylor’s Version) vinyl was gonna be released soon.

It is coming the first week of September. We have another color variation of Folklore in the house for tomorrow.

It sounds like Taylor’s really inspired a lot of other artists and labels to lean more into vinyl. Do you think that’s the case?

I think it’s certainly the case for some of the artists that appeal to that younger demographic. I think she’s proving that that group will buy releases on vinyl, and not only will they buy it on vinyl, but they’ll buy it on several different color variations, because they’re that interested in collecting what she puts out.

Last time I think you’d mentioned that you saw more younger women in particular in the store recently, I guess because of Taylor but also probably some other artists too, right?

It’s just been a growing trend. One I think it would be impossible to ignore, but it’s really nice to see.

Is there anything else that’s been going on that you wanted to mention?

Not really, Chris. That’s enough. [Laughs] It’s been busy. We’re all looking forward to kind of getting a little back to our norm. We’ve got some of the guys on vacation getting out of town to see family that they haven’t seen in a very long time, so we’re just kind of hoping to cycle through that and just kind of get back into what we do each week, which will feel good.

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