Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Support Local: Strictly Discs

The following was originally published in New Dogma print issue 002 as the first in what will be a series of spotlight articles on some of our favorite spots and people in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Strictly Discs is a near weekly trip for us, a place we love to visit and often leave with much lighter wallets.


In March of 2023, it was announced that for the first time in 35 years, vinyl records had outsold CDs in the past year. For many in and around the music scene, this was a means to rejoice as it was indicative of a return to an analog, more rich sounding medium. For those of us who have been toiling away at building our (at times obsessive) vinyl collections for years, this was perhaps simultaneously a sign to celebrate as well as a beckoning of existential dread, fearing the long lines at Record Store Day and other new release days were here to stay. Yet, for an independent record store like Strictly Discs, this news was best for them. It represented a clearer path forward in the music sales market and even more stability coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic; a global crisis decimating not only record stores, but local and regional businesses worldwide. 

Strictly Discs has been a mainstay of Madison since its inception in 1987. Snugly tucked into a corner at the cross streets of Monroe and Harrison, the shop has seen its fair share of change, whether it be in the neighborhood and music industry or the world and our society as a whole. Throughout it all they’ve quietly strived to be a bastion of good beats and eloquent vibes, and more importantly built and maintained a strong commitment to the local community. But what is it that weaves a local music shop into the fabric of a city? What magic formula regularly brings back droves of music-loving Madisonians? The answer is more simple than you may think, so we’ll let you in on a well-known secret: a combination of a great selection of music and even better people. Two of those people, Evan Woodward and Angie Roloff, have been part of Strictly’s team for over a decade and have borne witness to the shift from digital to vinyl and how by staying close to their local community, they’ve been able to not just see their way through a global pandemic, but come out flourishing in the end.

Still, much like how Evan and Angie have seen Strictly Discs go from primarily a seller of CDs to now one of the premier independent vinyl stores in the Midwest, they also have seen the demographic of buyers change and go with the motion of things in order to serve the community. “You see that the demographic is shifting from the middle aged white man to a younger demographic,” Roloff said, “It’s skewing a lot more female than I think anybody ever expected as well, which is really wonderful to see. Even if you think about the Record Store Day crowd this year and the Taylor Swift release – which was by far, the biggest Record Store Day release ever.” When asked what’s causing the shift away from old white dudes (ahem…us) to more of a younger, more female crowd, Roloff also had this to say: “They are soaking up the whole scene for them,” she continued, “It’s an experience, it’s not just about acquiring a record. They might want these tchotchkes or stickers or things that are totally unrelated to Taylor Swift, but they want it all. It’s all part of the special stuff; the memories and the experience of that day.”

Shop manager Evan Woodward assures us that despite whatever trends may come and go, like any great local business Strictly Discs has also stayed true to its roots: a deeply dedicated community of vinyl collectors that have tastes as eclectic as the imagination can ponder. Thus, part of Strictly Discs’ business plan, while having to cater to a new, more mainstream audience, is still making sure those independent and obscure releases still find their way into the store. “At least once a week, Angie and I will look at the new releases of what’s coming out,” Woodward disclosed, “What we end up getting is a combination of what will sell and what we know individual people will want. We’ll order something because we’ll go, ‘Well, so and so are going to want this, so we have to order at least three!’ We really do order things based on our audience.” There was no more evident time that Strictly’s business model would be put to test than during the 2020 lockdown days of the COVID-19 pandemic. With businesses shutting down left and right, there was perhaps no area of the marketplace decimated more than small businesses.


“You see that the demographic is shifting from the middle aged white man to a younger demographic. It’s skewing a lot more female than I think anybody ever expected as well, which is really wonderful to see.”

Angie Roloff

Seemingly against the odds, Strictly Discs didn’t see their doors shutter and their monolithic collection of vinyl go to waste. In fact, they saw the opposite: a boom in their business, one that continues to stay steady today. “We felt the impact of the community right away. I think we became an outlet for people because no one was going out and instead of spending money out, they were listening to records at home,” Woodward recalled, “As soon as people knew the world wasn’t going to end, the online business took off. We’d have like ten tubs of records going out of the store every day.” Even though folks had money to blow and time to spend listening to records, as our society has crawled its way out from the “Days of COVID,” and adapted to the changing world, certain things have stayed the same for Strictly Discs to keep them successful.

In Roloff’s mind, it’s simply the Madison community itself. “That’s something that really can’t be understated. There are so many communities of our size and significantly bigger who don’t have independent record stores and Madison supports several that are succeeding and doing well, and are active parts of the community,” Angie said, “Madison has one of the earliest Buy Local organizations in the country that’s still very active and promoting local retail, and communicating to people that when you spend your money in your community, it stays in your community. The fact that we’ve all made it in the Amazon era is notable and so, for us, we’re fortunate because we have the city of Madison and the people who live here, and they value their local businesses. They want that experience; someone making recommendations and someone to talk to.”

But even as vinyl records have stormed back into the zeitgeist, one has to wonder, what’s the staying power behind vinyl and what does it mean for businesses like Strictly Discs and for people like Woodward and Roloff? Surely, once the next high-tech medium comes to the forefront, independent record stores like Strictly Discs will go the way of the video arcade, yes? For Roloff, that uncertainty is something she thinks about, but is still hopeful from what she’s seen. “Long-term health is something that we’re curious about, but I don’t see any reason to believe that it’s slowing down based on what we’re seeing. And you know, every Record Store Day, I wonder, ‘maybe this is going to be not as great as the last one,’ but it just seems to keep growing and the net seems to catch more people,” She disclosed, “I think I relate it to pretty much any small business, it’s a lot of small pivots, just small things and anticipating and listening to our customers. Even as we all get older, maybe we’re not so much in touch with some of those things. And so we rely on our customers to keep us in the loop on what they’re excited about.”

“We’re fortunate because we have the city of Madison and the people who live here, and they value their local businesses. They want that experience; someone making recommendations and someone to talk to.”

Angie Roloff

By staying close to their customers and the passion they have for music and collecting, Woodward, Roloff, and the rest of the Strictly staff are also able to stay close to the reason why many of them work there: they’re huge music fans, too. Their intro to the shop and the record store industry evolved from being a part of the customer base they now serve; a fact they haven’t forgotten. Roloff used to work across the street, came in to buy a Rolling Stones record, and ended up married to the owner, Ron Roloff. Woodward started coming to Strictly as a fan and then got hired as a buyer and front desk clerk. That was 13 years ago. “For as much as I have to deal with,” Woodward said, “I still get to connect people I like, with music I like.” Yet, it still takes more than a love for music, or sport, or any other venture for one to make a deep commitment to something like the staff at Strictly Discs. It takes a commitment to the community – a commitment that has allowed them to stay solvent and a mainstay of Madison for over 35 years – a commitment enabling their motto to stay true and hopefully be a mantra for generations of music lovers to come:

Peace. Love. Records.

Authors

  • Grant Pieters

    Father, deep thinker, lover of life...and falafel.

    Twitter

  • Andrew Schmidt

    Eclecticist, FMFC supporter, Flock co-founder, designer of things, and taker of photos. Writer, wrench, motorcyclist. Pro-intellectualist, anti-pedant. Drinker of coffee and greeter of dogs.

    Twitter

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