As roller rinks slowly open up around the country from COVID-19 restrictions, which varied from state to state, we’re seeing a trend. Roller rinks are attracting a whole new legion of skaters, and hitting their 25% capacity, with some turning away customers at the door, or selling out through advance ticket sales. That’s great news for the skating industry, which has been slowly rolling along for years.
But that’s not the only thing that’s on the upswing. Rising attraction prices, which includes roller skating. Before you accuse rink owners of greed, please understand first why the prices have to go up. It’s a matter of life and death for these small businesses. If you’ve ever lost a roller rink in your home town, you get it. And currently we’re in the double digits for the number of rinks that have died due to COVID. These are rinks that will never re-open again.
For those rink operators who did everything possible to not throw in the towel, thank you.
It has been a long shut down through what is typically the busiest time of year for the industry, and operators had no choice but to raise prices. Here’s why. Many had to take out PPP loans, which involved a lot of paperwork. Before COVID, some of the rinks were paid off, and they had no debt. That’s how they were able to stay open on $5 a head. Now, these same owners have a payment that wasn’t in previous operating budgets. With no revenue coming in, there were still expenses going out. Insurance, taxes, utilities, and association dues, to name a few. Additionally, there were pandemic-related items to purchase, including masks, partitions, cleaning supplies, gallons of hand sanitizer, and custom floor stickers to enforce social distancing. And let’s not forget that tables in the snack bar had to be distanced, with fewer places to sit. On top of that, there are future concerns of a higher mandatory minimum wage, or another lockdown/shutdown.
While rinks were closed in 2020, there was a lot of cleaning and renovating going on. You’ll notice rental skates are a lot cleaner, arcade games are routinely wiped down, and a new coat of paint in some facilities. This also adds to the budget.
Please don’t be hatin’ on the rink for raising prices to cover these unexpected expenses. Prices are going up everywhere. Plus, let’s take a look at the value you still get from indoor roller-skating rinks. An AMC Movie Ticket is $13.69 to watch a major motion picture. That doesn’t include the $5 sodas and buckets of popcorn.
Bowling alleys charge more than $5 per game (per person), although some charge by the hour: $25-$35 per hour per lane. Shoe rental averages $4.
Have you seen what it costs to go to a trampoline park? $17 per hour, per person. Plus, you’ll need a pair of grip socks for an additional $2 a pair, which are yours to keep.
A four-day ski trip for a family of four at a top ski resort can run $2,500-$3,000, including lodging, lift tickets, and kids’ lessons, but before transportation, meals, or equipment rental. At that price, you can bring the family roller skating every weekend for a whole year. A lift ticket, alone can cost up to $150 a day (per person).
Roller skating truly is the perfect family staycation. With each visit, you can get some exercise, improve your skills, and meet new friends. We’re lucky to have the rinks that are open, even if there has been a price increase. Please remember that the next time you plan a trip to your local skating center. It still a great value.
If anything CoVID-19 has taught us, it’s that you quickly realize how much you miss something when it’s no longer there. For us, it’s the roller rink. Never in our wildest dreams could we imagine our rinks abruptly shuttered due to a pandemic. But it happened. So far, I’m told we’ve lost 6 rinks across the USA since the outbreak started.
That’s why it’s up to us to keep our rinks open and thriving. COVID19 got people outdoors, practicing social distancing. And it also accelerated the sale of outdoor gear, from skates and protective wear, to softer wheels, helmets, wrist guards and other necessities. Roller Skating suddenly started trending with a whole new crowd.
Meanwhile, roller rink operators were forced to close during their busiest time of the year. Most spent their time on rink upgrades, such as painting, floor resurfacing, restroom facelifts, knocking out walls, rearranging the space, installing new lights, and making the facilities look brand new.
And God Bless those who had to deal with Governors who didn’t understand how to classify a rink when it came time to reopen. Is a roller rink considered a fitness facility? An entertainment venue? A restaurant? Community center? And why are ice rinks open, while rinks remain closed?
In Tennessee, rink owners couldn’t get an answer from their state leaders. So, they got together in a Zoom Meeting with the Governor and pleaded their case along with a set of guidelines they promised to follow. Those rinks, along with Georgia and Texas are already open. Ohio and North Carolina are next.
Rink operators in California, have been chomping at the bit waiting to get permission to reopen with no date on the horizon. It’s been a frustrating ride for everyone.
Now that rinks are re-opening across the country, I urge you to visit one near you so we can keep them around for the future. They offer many advantages over outdoor skating, such as:
Your car is always close by. You can go for miles in a skating rink, and your car is never far away. That means you won’t be stuck 2 miles up some trail with a sprained ankle in the pouring rain or hot sun; or facing down a wild animal while wishing you were already in your car.
They’re safer. For example, there are no hills. Hills are fun when you’re 20. Then you realize how expensive a trip to the hospital is. Roller rinks provide a smooth flat surface and sweep it often. Indoor skating surfaces are free of rocks, branches, seed pods, and small sticks that can trip you up when skating outdoors.
There’s no pollen. If seasonal allergies are a problem, indoor skating is your solution. What good is skating outdoors if it leads to sneezing, coughing, or a wicked headache?
In case of injury. Let’s be honest. Roller skating, especially outdoors can be dicey at times. Who hasn’t fallen? In a skating rink someone is always close by to quickly evaluate your situation and call 911 if needed. Response time could be a lot longer out on the greenway.
The atmosphere makes it fun. Skating to a Live DJ who understands how to entertain skaters is another plus. The lights and music, along with a crowd of good skaters is something you won’t find on a bike path.
You’ll make new friends. Skating rinks are the original social media. Regardless of your age or skill level, you can always find another person who shares your love of gliding on wheels.
You’re encouraged to have fun. How many times have you seen signs outdoors stating “No roller skating”? At an indoor rink, they want you to skate and have a great time.
So, when the quarantine is finally over, don’t forget our roller rinks. Change your wheels and skate indoors.
While the CoVID-19 Pandemic caused sessions at roller rinks to come to a screeching halt, some states are already making plans to lift the ban on social gatherings. That means a few, like those in Georgia have re-opened again, but with caveats. Some are only allowed 25 people in the building. Most are requiring a state health inspection to ensure cleanliness and sanitizing methods are clearly enforced. And there will be changes that employees and customers will need to be aware of.
What they’re doing
When rinks were first shut down by state governments, the
brass at the Roller Skating Association jumped into action to advise rinks on
how to weather the storm. The majority of skating rinks are privately owned,
and operate on a shoe string budget by family members. Some had already put
back savings to handle such an event, like a hurricane, or major catastrophe
that would close the business for a period of time. Others were caught
flat-wheeled. Because of social distancing rules, and the myriad of touch
surfaces that kids have their sticky fingers all over, rinks were deemed “non-essential”
businesses and unable to conduct business.
RSA Executive James McMahon has the perfect experience to lead the rink operators through this. He’s a former government politico able to help rink owners navigate the Payroll Protection loans, the SBA loans, and other funding available to small business owners at very low interest rates. As of this past week’s town hall meeting, many rink operators have reported that funds have been received. That means a lot of rinks will be able to re-open when the time comes thanks to the RSA jumping into action early and guiding them through this.
Also note there are a number of renovations going on at
skating facilities throughout the country. When rinks open back up, it will be
like walking into a brand-new business. Floors are being refinished, carpeting
installed, painting, repairs, new lighting, and sound too. It’s exciting to see
the progress posted on social media. If you’re not following your favorite
rink, I urge you to do so!
Before skating rinks can reopen, a plan needs to be in place
regarding constant cleaning and social distancing. Gone are the days of staying
open all day Saturday to accommodate rink rats who hang out for 8 hours
straight. Instead, the FECs will have to abide by new regulations. Expect to
see more “close and clean” session lineups. An example would be: open from
12-2:30PM then clear all patrons from the building, close, and clean to reopen
at 3PM until 5:30 PM. Close and clean from 5:30 to 6 and run that session for 2
hours. Skaters will have to get used to a new session lineup and plan their
rink trips accordingly.
Close and clean is a good thing. For one, the building will be sparkling clean for each new session. Typically, for rinks that remain open all day, it usually looks like a bomb went off by 4PM with overflowing trash cans, and harried employees having to restock restrooms during a busy public session. Now employees can focus on cleaning the building without customer interruptions, and customers don’t have to deal with spray cleaner odors, vacuum noise, and large bags of trash being emptied in front of them.
Another plus, the parking lot will get cleared every 2 to 3 hours for a new group of customers. Rinks will find it easier to remain in compliance of social distancing, while optimizing revenue opportunities, so they can stay open for us. You can’t make a lot of money with only 25 people in the building if they won’t leave.
Also note, there will be no sharing of rental skates. All
rental skates will need to be disinfected between use. Skaters will most likely
be required to wear a face mask, although that could vary among state
authorities. And there will be hand sanitizer stations everywhere. Don’t be
surprised if drinking fountains are shut off for the time being as well.
What’s to become of the play smart soft play zones? That hasn’t yet been determined. Since they are high contact, it is likely they will remain closed for the time being. Chances are also good that moms won’t want their kids in there anymore, anyway.
Show some love
More than anything, we need to remember to thank rink
operators for remaining steadfast and vigilant during this crisis. They miss us
as much as we miss them. The old saying is true, “you don’t know what you’ve
got till it’s gone.” As our economy hits the reset button and we’re free to
skate again, never forget the sacrifice rink operators made to return to
business. We may see the rates go up. Do not complain! There is nothing worse
than not having a rink at all to skate at. We learned that during the past 6
weeks. Pay for what you love, and show the owners some gratitude.
A 5-day trip to Northern California by Susan Geary
If you’re headed to Northern California, don’t forget your skates. There are plenty of rinks, including outdoor venues to enjoy, along with different types of sessions to choose from. Here’s the itinerary that Ginger Mathews (aka the Skate Critic) planned for me to get the most from my trip.
Wednesday: After my flight touched down at San Francisco International Airport, Ginger picked me up and we headed to the Golden Skate in San Ramone for Adult night.
Every Wednesday this quaint rink, located just off the 680 Freeway halfway between Walnut Creek and Pleasanton, hosts skaters 18 and older from 7:30 PM – 100:00 PM. Admission is $14 per person with quad rentals at $5 — $6 for inlines. Everyone entering must pay a fee, whether they skate or not. Skaters are required to enter through a metal detector that checks for weapons. The floor is polyurethane coated over plywood/particle board, and some of the seams appeared to buckle on one side of the rink. Great music and a fun DJ to start off our trip. I did notice the prices on admission and skate related gear are the highest in the region. Richard Humphrey, the founder of RollerDance.com, was in the house and demonstrated the Wave. He’s provides roller dance instruction and has an interesting background as a stunt double and producer of skate instruction videos.
Thursday: Early Thursday morning we headed out to Citrus Heights to skate with seasoned veterans at Sunrise Rollerland, located Northeast of Sacramento near the Sunrise mall. Sunrise Rollerland is one of the largest wood floors in the West, and the 5th largest, nationwide (according to the Skate Critic). With a gorgeous rotunda floor that is well maintained, it was like skating on butter. This morning skate adult session runs $7 from 10-noon which includes skate rental and coffee and donuts. The music is a mix of soft rock, and more mellow top 40 music from the past 50 years. I ran into friends that were made years ago on Facebook, but had never met “in person.” What a wonderful time and a fabulous venue. I picked up a souvenir t-shirt as well.
After the session, we drove by King’s Skate Country in Elk Grove (south of Sacramento) which was closed, but we were hoping to go inside for a sneak peek. Perhaps next time.
Friday: Next we headed to the Church of 8 Wheels in San Francisco at 554 Fillmore St. near Fell Street. This old church turned disco roller rink is run by David Miles, the Godfather of Skating. We went to the earlier session from 5-7 pm due to our schedule. It’s open to all ages. But it’s the 8-midnight adult session that’s the showstopper. That’s when you’ll find a full house of adult skate worshipers, dressed in disco garb, to complement David’s light up sparkly hat and fuzzy leg warmers. There is neon everywhere. It’s a bit small, and more of a novelty rink, although it does have the original wood floor, brand new rental skates with light up wheels, and a fun selection of disco music that brought me back to my high school years when I was a rink rat in the 70s. Props also to David’s lovely wife, Rose and their daughter who greeted us at the door and made us feel extra welcome during our visit.
After leaving the Church, Ginger took me to San Jose to a pop-up rink in a former Sports Chalet at the East Ridge Mall. The owner, Liz Ruiz has done a phenomenal job in such a short period of time (8 days!) installing the Aloha Roller Rink, which started as an outdoor venue and morphed into the current location. It does have poles, which are well padded with pool floats, and they are lit up so you can’t miss them. Also, the floor is concrete and there is a practice area for beginners. Liz has utilized the space nicely, and it’s only been open about a year with huge party areas. A pro shop is also planned. The Hawaiian Beach theme resonates throughout, and there’s lots of couches, along with pool tables and pinball; plus a mini golf course under construction. Our DJ was DJ Taz from 10PM to 1AM. He played a mix of disco, rhythm and skate classics, like ABBA’s Dancing Queen, and Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough. This was a very fun rink. Save time by signing the online waver in advance. $13 admission. Skate rental is $2 and $4 for quads or inlines.
Along our route to San Jose, we stopped in Redwood City to
see the recently shuttered Redwood Roller Rink. This iconic rink was owned by
Jim and Suzie Pollard. Jim was a renowned skating coach and industry pioneer. After
his passing, the family decided to sell the building, which is still looking
for a new owner. The Quonset hut style is similar to Rollero, a former rink in
the Phoenix area that closed in 2017.
Saturday we slept in till noon to prepare for the night’s festivities that would run from 11PM until 4AM in Citrus Heights. The 2RAW Skate Club holds an Adult Skate on the last Saturday of every month with a national weekend party in April. 2 RAW stands for Rhythm and Wheels. I learned the 2 was added to get at the top of the schedule among nationwide events that are listed at SkateGroove.com.
On the way, I wanted to get my king pins checked to make sure I had adjusted my skates properly. Ginger took me to the Roller King in Roseville, which I always admired from afar. While we did not put on skates, I was amazed at not only the number of well-behaved skaters, but the hundreds of photos of champions that adorned the rink. Owned by the Jacques family, headed by Michael and Pat, both world-class skaters, their son Michael (also a champion) took a quick look and said my skates were fine. When it comes to skates, finding a good tech who understands the nuances of plates and how they work can be hard to find at times. On my next trip, I definitely want to skate here and take a lesson from one of their coaches.
Back at Citrus Heights and Sunrise Rollerland we were ready to skate the night away at their monthly 2RAW event. The $18 admission price helps bring in DJ Bowen from Chicago, who is popular among rhythm skaters. 2RAW is in its 10th year and will celebrate with a weekend event April 16-18th. After the first hour, I stepped off the floor to stay out of the way of the shuffle skaters who like to skate very fast along the outside edge of the rink. These parties are not for beginners who can easily get run over if they don’t understand the dynamics of the late-night adult skates. It’s important to stay toward the center lanes if you don’t participate in shuffle skating, and use the correct hand signals to enter and exit the floor. The rules are not very clear, so ask ahead of time if you do plan to go and avoid injury.
Sunday we headed back into the City to Golden Gate Park to meet up with David Miles (from the Church of 8 Wheels) for their weekly gathering of skaters. Known as the Skatin’ Place in Golden Gate Park, the skaters move in unison to songs from Miles’ boom box, while he spins around holding a wireless microphone, encouraging the group. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, a group of roller skaters (aka The Skate Patrol) stopped the City Hall from banning roller skating in Golden Gate Park more than 40 years ago.) Now they have a permanent outdoor rink to call their own that is free for all to enjoy. There’s even a guy out there skating with his little white dog. Note that parking can be lean, you may want to consider public transit if you go.
Later that afternoon, we checked out Paradise Skate in Antioch. This small rink with a wood floor is situated on the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds, and offers derby, a pro shop, skating lessons, STEM, and birthday parties. There was quite a crowd, music was supplied by the computer program FEC, and they played the Red Light, Green Light Game and the Hokey Pokey while we were there. I also got to try out a new pair of Golden Horse Artistic Skates which I plan to review in the future. We skated the 3-5:30 PM session. This rink also has a beach/surfer theme. I loved the knowledgeable and friendly staff and good mix of modern music. Admission is $10 for this session. Quad and Inline rentals are $5 additional. They offer group discounts for those with 15 or more.
One thing I noticed about all of these rinks was the amount of skate-related items and gifts they had for sale with their logo on them. There were T-shirts, key chains, and other goodies.
My partner in crime, Ginger, the Skate Critic has full reviews of the rinks we visited, with more comprehensive info, such as the quality of the floor, rest rooms, and cleanliness. Check it out and follow her on Facebook at the Skate Critic.
You’ll find videos and additional photos on our Facebook page at Roller Sk8r
The next time you’re headed to California, don’t forget your skates. There are plenty of great rinks there.
If you’ve ever had an encounter with Skate Mate Trainers,
those “plastic bar thingys” that are supposed to help a kid learn how
to roller skate, then you no doubt have an opinion on them.
Rink owners, parents, and kids LOVE them, and these devices
generate a significant amount of income for family entertainment centers.
Parents can chill on the side line and stare at their phone. And the kid feels
some freedom, even if they are frustrated because they can’t skate, or figure
it out on their own.
The FEC rinks, those that cater mostly to kids, rent out the Trainers by the session or the hour. Traditional, old fashioned skating rinks tend to avoid them either out of lack of space, or a refusal for other reasons. Parents can get upset if the rink runs out of them during a session. Yes, they can be demanding and a bit nasty at times with rink management if they can’t get one for their kid. Just ask any rink owner who has run out during a busy Saturday afternoon.
Where they came from
Skate Mate Trainers first showed up in rinks about a decade
ago. They were designed to help a kid learn how to roller skate. Early versions
of the Skate Mates toppled over easily and caused a hazard to other skaters.
The stability issue has been improved, although one rink has been sued over an
injury involving a Skate Mate Trainer.
There are several sides to the debate about skate mates. Other
skaters are annoyed by them, and worry what will happen if one comes flying
over at them, which happens often. Those who are really annoyed by Skate Mate
Trainers are the seasoned skaters who took lessons and purchased skates, only
to have to skate around a moving danger zone.
I understand why rinks use skate mate trainers. The income
they generate help keep the place open, and now parents are demanding them. They
can generate 10s of thousands of dollars every year.
But there is a downside. Renting them out during a public
session to appease a beginner who just walked in the door, will chase out your
best skaters. Why would you want to annoy them?
Why they should be limited
In my opinion, Skate Mate Trainers should only be used only
during Tot Time, or in lessons, with a skating instructor to supervise their
use and teach newbies how to skate. When kids are left unsupervised with these
Trainers on a skate floor, they toss them back and forth to each other, try to
sit on them, race each other, or fall every 4 feet, never learning how to
correct the problem. It’s like handing your kid a set of keys to a car with no
instructions on how to drive, or the rules of the road. That pisses off every
one else on the road. And it’s not very safe.
When they should be used
I do believe that Skate Mate Trainers can be useful. When
used in supervised lesson programs, they can help new skaters gain
confidence. They can also be used to learn more difficult moves, such as
figures, spirals, and loops. And the instructor doesn’t have to hold the skater
up and worry about an unstable skater falling on them. I taught a 50-year-old
who had never skated before how to skate using a Skate Mate Trainer. On Day
One, he was quite fearful, but by the 4th lesson, he was skating
just fine without it and was much more relaxed.
To sum it up, here is my list of pros and cons regarding
— New skaters can gain confidence and adults can learn to skate without breaking a hip.
— The rinks generate a significant amount of income that helps them to stay open for all skaters.
— Parents don’t have to accompany their kid on the floor
— They’re like a moving cone zone which alerts other
skaters there’s a hazard to avoid.
— They are more of a novelty, and don’t teach kids how to
— When used incorrectly, they can cause accidents and the
possibility of an injury or litigation.
— They chase out people who took the time and effort to
learn how to skate, and have already spent money at the rink on admissions and
— They’re a hazard and they break.
— Some parents get annoyed that the rink actually charges to
rent them, and have waxed about it in online reviews.
— They can take up a lot of storage space if they can’t be
hung from the ceiling.
— Kids share or abandon them. That means the rink isn’t
making money on the additional people using them.
Now that they’re here, it’s doubtful we’ll see them removed
from public sessions. However, they should be capped at the number of them on
the floor at one time, based on the number of total skaters. I once attended an
extremely crowded Saturday night session several years ago, and there with no
fewer than 20 of these trainers on the floor going every which way with more
than 200 skaters on the floor at the time. After 20 minutes, I took off my
skates and left. I was in the middle of a cross-country move, and didn’t need a
broken arm to slow me down.
I’m not completely against the Skate Mate. They are
wonderful for lessons and under the supervision of a skate instructor. But their
use during public sessions needs to be revisited. We don’t allow skate boards,
scooters, and strollers out on the floor during an All-Skate. These devices should
be included in that policy.