If you searched the city of Madison, you would be hard-pressed to find music shops that have planted deeper local roots than B-Side Records and Strictly Discs.
The former, located at 436 State Street, is entering its 38th year of business, while the latter, at 1900 Monroe Street, has been here for thirty-three. This sort of longevity, rare in any industry but especially in the turbulent world of physical music, makes each store a local institution.
But their shared status as paragons of the local music scene could not shield them from the destructive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning in March, both stores complied with Governor Evers’ “Safer at Home” order by pausing in-person sales, cutting off their most reliable source of revenue for nearly two months. In this uncertain business environment, the key to survival would prove to be adaptability.
Fortunately, that word — adaptability — is the best one to describe those music stores that overcame the dual rise of online shopping and digital music over the last few decades. B-Side and Strictly Discs are no exceptions.
Angie Roloff, co-owner of Strictly Discs, recalls how fast they took action.
“We immediately started to modify our business model to accommodate the new challenges,” Roloff said.
Both shops turned to curbside pickups and mail-order, and Strictly Discs expanded their online presence. While these new methods could not match the lost in-person sales, the ability of both businesses to remain flexible allowed them to push through the pandemic’s most difficult days.
The mid-May announcement that non-essential businesses would be allowed to reopen in a safe fashion brought both excitement and new obstacles to the two music stores.
For B-Side owner Steve Manley, having customers back in the store was crucial.
“In-person browsing is extremely important for the record store,” Manley said. “People love to stumble upon records that they weren’t necessarily looking for.”
As the new guidelines allowed them to open their doors, both stores quickly had to find ways to keep both their shoppers and their employees safe. The shops reopened with limited hours, made changes to their layouts and recently began to offer appointment shopping. Just as they had faced the loss of in-person shopping, the stores welcomed it back with adaptability and resilience.
Both Manley and Roloff made it clear that their businesses could not have weathered the pandemic without the backing of the local community. Roloff encapsulated their shared sentiments.
“Our community is incredibly supportive, and we are blessed that Madison supports its local businesses in such a committed and caring way,” Roloff said.
Manley expressed his appreciation towards the students and residents that shop at B-Side, and summed it up even further.
“This is a good place to be.”
Times of great challenge often deliver even greater wisdom. Even the shop owners, people who have spent their lives surrounded by records and CDs, have been reminded of the importance of music by this trying year.
Reflecting on both herself and her customers, Roloff noted her product’s biggest selling point.
“It’s not just entertainment — it is also a form of comfort and therapy,” said Roloff.
Perhaps in simpler times, this truth is an easy one to miss — when life is easy, music can become just another form of amusement, slipping into the background.
It, however, struck this author that both store owners, people constantly inundated with thoughts, sights and sounds of music, realized the unique power it holds to each listener. Once again, Manley epitomized the thoughts of many when he said, “music certainly helps keep me sane.”
Roloff mentioned one other lesson that we all have learned this year.
“How we spend our money directly impacts the quality and character of our community and our neighbors,” Roloff said.
Combining this knowledge with that from the paragraph above gives us a takeaway — local shops like Strictly Discs and B-Side provide for the community, and so we must return the favor.
Tucked away in a crate at B-Side, or perhaps hidden in a record sleeve at Strictly Discs, is a little slice of relaxation, a warming piece of hope that spins at 33 rotations per minute. The emotions that these stores allow us to feel make them not a luxury, but a necessary fiber of our local community.
Just as we need the peace of mind that their music provides, the record stores need us, now more than ever. Next time you are looking for some new tunes, head down to Strictly Discs or B-Side Records, and repay the support that these two shops have so consistently given the Madison area for over three decades.