As everyone knows, the COVID-19 pandemic—and, more specifically, America’s astonishingly abysmal handling of it—has severely impacted businesses all over the country. While we wait for the return to so-called “normalcy” (which honestly may never come), bars, restaurants, music venues, retailers, and countless other businesses are either closed until conditions improve or they’re drastically changing the way they do things in order to adapt to the current state of the world.
Many have changed to a delivery or carryout model. Others have leaned more heavily on online sales and virtual events. Some business have been forced to get especially creative in order to stay solvent during this unprecedented time. One local example of the resourcefulness born out of the pandemic is Acme Records & Music Emporium, which has gone to great lengths to give customers and safe and socially distant shopping experience.
Earlier this month, the Bay View record store started offering vinyl enthusiasts the unique opportunity to not only shop at Acme Records in person again, but to do so without any other customers there. This is made possible through reservations, which allows people to browse the store’s selection in privacy for a 30-minute span. We were curious about this innovative shopping approach, so we booked a block of time to experience Acme Records as we never have before.
We reserved our half-hour block by emailing Acme Records (at [email protected]) to see what was available. Reservations—which cost nothing, by the way—can also be placed by leaving at message with Acme at 414-882-9797. My email was answered within 12 hours and I was able to claim the last unclaimed spot last Sunday. Once my 3:30-4:00 p.m. slot was confirmed, I was reminded to wear a mask and I was told that I’d be expected to put on hand sanitizer and wear gloves (both of which Acme would provide) upon entering. Since that’s an extremely easy and reasonable request and because I’m an adult with respect for others, I said “sounds good!” and my shopping block was locked in.
Upon arriving at Acme at 3:30 on the dot (I didn’t want to rush the previous shopper, but they were gone already) with a mask on, a masked- and gloved-up employee came out and unhooked a velvet rope to let me into the store. Admittedly, it was a pretty cool feeling to be let into a store that way. Upon entering, I encountered a table with the aforementioned sanitizer and gloves, which I put on because, again, it’s what the business requested and I’m not an inconsiderate monster. After that, the employee took a seat behind the register and the store was mine.
When booking the appointment, “Shopkeeper Ken” warned me the shop would be hot and recommended I wear appropriate clothing for the conditions. I’m glad he did. There were fans going, but it was a bit steamy inside Acme. Of course, the dry 95-degree heat—which reportedly felt like 105 degrees—outside and my long pandemic mullet were also a major factor in that. Even so, the temperature didn’t really detract from my shopping experience. Neither did wearing a mask, since I’m not a fucking toddler.
Once left to my own devices, I had the opportunity to set down my phone (except for taking this photo, of course) that held up-to-the-minute updates about the world’s ongoing collapse and just zone out to the sounds of the in-store world music soundtrack and the soothing slap of colliding record sleeves as I scoured the bins for vinyl-pressed treasure. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular. I guess I was looking for a reminder of a time—a time not so long ago that simultaneously seemed like it was a lifetime prior—when I could kill some time on a Sunday afternoon by indulging in a simple, mindless pleasure.
Eventually, the employee who’d left me to shop in peace after letting me in broke his silence. “You have three minutes left,” he said courteously, but in a way that also reminded me I was on the clock. By then, another masked customer was waiting his turn outside, so I made my way to the register to pay for my haul: a used copy of the Big Top Pee Wee soundtrack, a cassette from Milwaukee’s own Sundial Mottos, and a self-released LP of Jail’s There’s No Sky (Oh My My) the band put out before they had to add another L to their name. (Writer’s/editor’s note: this Jail record has no connection to Burger Records, so don’t worry. I didn’t support Burger with this purchase.)
Though I’m happy with my purchases, I also viewed my $24.25 as small payment for the 30-minute respite from a complicated world outside the store’s front window. It was a minimal fee to support a local business doing its part to keep customers and keep society safe. It was a way to help make sure an independent record store will still be there on the other side of this nightmare.