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Featured Rink Life

Rolling with the Skate Critic

by Susan Geary

If you’re the type of person who reads the reviews before making a purchase or reserving a hotel room, and you love to skate at different roller rinks, you’re in luck. The roller rink industry has more than just Google and Facebook reviews to help steer you in the right direction. It’s got a bonafide Skate Critic whose real name is Ginger Mathews. Over the past 5 years Ginger has visited and evaluated 300+ rinks, and she invited me along on her tour of rinks in Southwestern Virginia in late June, visiting 8 rinks (and Southeastern Skate Supply) in 3 states over 4 days. She continued on toward Raleigh and Wilmington (for more rink critiques) after I told her I needed to get back to work!

Her Skating Background

What qualifies Ginger to be The Skate Critic? Her parents met at a roller rink. Her mom was an art skater, and her dad was a rink rat. Her mother passed away when Ginger was an infant, and her dad remarried another art skater. Plus, her aunt and uncle owned and/or operated rinks in Northern California, where she still lives. Additionally, her uncle wrote the rules for roller derby and her aunt was writer for the Rinksider many years ago. He’s still involved,  overseeing 3 derby teams. Ginger’s cousin Heather played on the US Women’s roller hockey team and took home the gold medal. As for Ginger, she’s been skating for most of her life.

During my ride along with The Skate Critic, we toured 6 Southwestern Virginia rinks, one on the Tennessee border, and another in Eden, North Carolina. I wanted to see what Ginger looks for, how she decides on a rating of 1-8 Wheels, just like the 8 wheels on a quad roller skate. 

How they’re rated

“Every rink starts with 8 wheels,” she reveals. “Then they get deductions for certain things, like a rude employee, a jacked up floor, safety issues, or bathrooms in need of attention.” Only one rink she’s rated so far has earned her top rating of 8 Wheels and 2 Toe Stops. “Oh, that’s Oaks Park, you have to go there.” Oaks Park, the nation’s oldest rink is along the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. Its gleaming hard wood rotunda floor, storied history, live organist, and location within an amusement park are what generated the toe stop bonus.

Her approach

When Ginger first enters the rink parking lot, she’ll jump out of the car with her phone and take pictures of the rink sign. Next she gathers up her Zuca bag with her skates and measuring tool, and continues to take photos of other signage as she makes her way into the building. As she approaches the admissions window, she asks to speak to the manager and introduces herself. “Hi I’m Ginger, the Skate Critic. I travel worldwide to review roller skating rinks and today I’m here to review yours.”

Sometimes the rink operator is caught off guard and looks a bit frightened after hearing that. But most appreciate her visits. “She’s fair, and she’s accurate,” Roller Skating Association President Jeff Couey told me and other members at the annual RSA convention this past May.

Ginger’s rink visits are no guarded secret. If you follow her on social media you’ll know what city she’s on her way to. When she lands in a rink parking lot she posts on Facebook, “Rolling, rollin’, rollin’’ with a location check-in. At that point, it’s a little too late to get the floor recoated or new carpeting installed to meet her standards anyway.

Skate Critic Logo
The Skate Critic puts on skates to get a feel for the smoothness of the floor and how well it’s been maintained

Once Ginger and I were buzzed inside, she glanced around for a first impression, found a seat and unpacked her skate bag. Next she whipped out a wheeled device and began measuring the floor. A lot of times the rink owner asks, “what does it measure?” Most of the time, they agree with her assessment. But numbers can shrink when the floor is trimmed for a playground or other attraction that the operators may forget about. That measuring stick also drew a lot of attention from skaters wondering what she was doing.

Skate Critic, Ginger Mathews measures the floor and includes the numbers in her rink reviews.

Her digital checklist ensures she doesn’t overlook anything. “After I get the floor measured, I take photos with no kids or customers in them, and I look at other parts of the facility, including the restrooms, carpeting, condition of the skate floor, and snack bar. When I’m done, I go back and ask the manager more questions about the history, and what else they offer that would interest roller skaters.”

“When did you shorten the floor?” Ginger asked. Or “when was this rink flooded?” She can tell by the stains or warps in wood floors. The rotunda maple floor is her favorite. “I’d love to see one being built in a new rink. Tell your readers if they’re opening a new rink with a rotunda floor, I want to come watch the installation.” (Editor’s note: Finchum Floors, one of the premier installers of sports floors estimates a new regulation rotunda floor would run about $22 a square foot, or roughly $300,000 for a roller skating rink. That’s why we haven’t seen any added to rinks in more than 20 years.)

The Skate Critic quizzes rink operators about the history of each rink she evaluates.

And then there’s the question that digs a little deeper. “What can you tell me about this rink that I wouldn’t know about by just walking in the door?” That’s when she learns more about its history.

The Moment of Truth

Reviews are typically posted within a week of the her visit. “This rink gets 6 Wheels,” she reported, referring to the Firehouse Sk8 ‘n Play in Vinton, Virginia, which was the second rink on our list of stops. Ginger always tells rink operators what they can do to get a higher score and promises to return. “I come back to see if they made the repairs and updates I recommended. I’m told a lot of floors are getting re-coated because of me.” Firehouse had a broken sink handle and the carpeting needed cleaning which cost them 2 Wheels, but she praised the manager, the staff, decorations, and other facets of the operation. She even posted a video of the driveway leading up to the rink.

https://www.facebook.com/ginger.d.mathews/videos/10220497867899275/
The driveway leading up to the Firehouse Sk8 ‘n Play in Vinton, Virginia

How it all began

Ginger started checking out rinks as soon as she got her driver’s license. She wanted to skate at every rink in California and it was her family that urged her to take photos and write down her experience at each location. She didn’t listen right away, but eventually she heeded their advice and officially launched “The Skate Critic” years later — buying up matching domains and custom social media handles. Overnight she attracted 800 followers and it continues to grow. She also ventured outside California.

Her goal is to visit every roller skating rink in the world, while also updating her list of current and dead rinks, to make sure they are never forgotten. “They hold a place in our history,” she said. It’s important to remember those rinks.” She also wants to help rinks stay open. “We’ve been losing too many.” Ginger amassed an extensive rink list, and keeps it up to date by placing a bi-annual phone call to each one, and by following their social media pages. She’s usually the first to know whenever a rink is closing or a new one is opening.

Off The Floor

What you may not know about The Skate Critic just by reading her reviews is that Ginger is a mall walker. In every town she visits, she seeks out an indoor shopping center to raise her daily step score.

To see how your favorite rink fared, follow The Skate Critic on Facebook.

Categories
Careers Featured Jam

Florida artist carves out career on skates

James Wilson runs a radio station, skate academy, and entertainment company. The 35-year old is making a name for himself among skating peers and at his new home rink, Skate Reflections in Kissimmee, Florida.

So if you’re tired of the same boring skate music, Wilson has a solution for that. Or if you need a unique entertainment crew for your next event, he has a solution for that too.

Photo Credit: Christopher Aldrich

Born into the industry, he’s been skating his whole life and has managed to develop a unique resume. He’s a partner with Anabolix, co-founded the Jamskate Academy, runs a skate entertainment company, and has relaunched his current project, SkateFM.com. In his spare time, he hosts “A Night with Jamskate at his home rink and around the state of Florida. He’s an Indiana native, and relocated from chilly Indianapolis by way of Ohio to sunny Florida a few years ago. Wilson runs his own production company, with all of the photography, videography, editing, and choreography done inhouse for Jamskate Entertainment. He markets himself as a roller skater available for background work, concert shows, and casting calls where skaters with advanced skills are needed.

A Skating Bloodline

Wilson spent 15 years as a competitive art skater where he brought home regional and national titles. Plus, roller skating is in his blood(line) with genes passed down from his grandfather, Bob France who taught art skating for more than 50 years. His mom is Pro-Coach Margaret Wilson. His late father, Jim Wilson ran meets in the Great Lakes. He also edited music for freestyle skaters, and mounted and repaired skates. Additionally, he told the RollerSk8r his uncle is Dominic Cangelosi, famed organist and owner of Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale, CA.

After hanging up his art skates, Wilson ventured into the world of jamskating where he started the Jamskate academy and taught others how to dance on skates. He skates on Riedell and partners with Anabolix, commenting they are the best wheels he’s ever skated on. “Our other great partner is East Coast Roller Sports. We sell Jamskate Entertainment apparel there,” he added.

Skate FM

Where others see a problem, Wilson sees a solution. He’s listened to the complainers of bad music and launched an internet radio station, SkateFM.com for people to choose their channel and find their jam. While some rink owners may not appreciate skaters wearing headphones, there are other rinks putting on a “silent skate session“, where you’re expected to bring your own music and wear your headphones. Or the rink provides simultaneous DJs for skaters to choose from. At SkateFM, listeners can select pop music, old school rap, funk, freestyle, and burgeoning formats. “It’s essentially a radio station for skaters by skaters. It came about because it’s very hard to find skating music on the radio or on the internet. It would be nice to have a station that played our kind of music,” said Wilson.

He noted that SkateFM gives aspiring and experienced rink DJs a chance to get themselves heard. A lot of DJs start in rinks, and they need a platform to get their work out there. They just need submit their tapes.

SkateFM is not really new. It existed in the past, but the site went down and then Wilson relocated to Florida, the project got brushed to the side. “We want a station for skaters. We’ve had a lot of people ask for it and we have more resources right now. It’s a reboot with a new generation of listeners so it’s basically a new station again” Wilson is hoping to grow the station to include skating ads and anyone who wants to advertise, including rinks. Like RollerSk8r, their demographic is also made up of roller skaters.

SkateFM specializes in music that skaters have been asking for.

A Night with Jamskate

Wilson is currently promoting , “A Night with Jamskate” at two Florida rinks. One on August 17th at Skate Reflections, and another at United Skates Tampa on September 21st. Wilson explained how it works for rink operators to bring this type of event to their business: “If a rink normally runs a session from 7-11PM, then we come in and do a class one hour before the session.” It’s free with paid admission. “We ask the rink for an extra hour until midnight,” he added. The rink charges whatever they want as far as admission goes. “Jamskate does a live show during the session where everyone clears the floor.” Then they do a jamskate so everyone can showcase their talents. These events include prize giveaways, a chance to take photos, and also practice new moves. Wilson mentioned that he’s available to bring this promotion to other rinks.

An artist on skates

People seemed surprised that skaters can make a career out of skating. And Wilson has the perfect response to those who say “oh you’re a skater?” He corrects them with a smile stating, “I’m an artist and my skates paint a picture.”

Categories
Featured

Roller Skating Convention Recap

Navigating my 6th RSA Trade Show

For the past 6 years, I’ve made the annual trek to (mostly) Las Vegas and (once to) Orlando to follow the business dealings of roller rink owners and see the latest in skates and accessories. I did this as Editor of a roller rink trade publication and last week as publisher of this site, a new online magazine for roller skaters.

Who Attends

The convention and trade show are closed to the public and you can only attend as a member of the RSA, or a vendor purchasing a booth at the trade show. Whenever I have mention to friends and acquaintances “I’m attending a roller skating convention,” I get a common response. “Ooooh! That sounds like fun! How can I get in?” Buy a rink and send in your dues.

The Vendors

Beyond the rink operators and skate manufacturers, there’s also a lot of other types of vendors, such as arcade suppliers, snack bar food purveyors, novelty and sock sellers, rink insurers, and non-profit entities. These include the Roller Skating Association itself, as well as USA Roller Sports (the governing body of the competitive side of skating,) a new speed league, and the Museum of Roller Skating which preserves roller skating history and is funded by the US Foundation of Roller Skating.

Skating is trending

The interest in roller skating continues to grow, and that was evident at this year’s show, which did not disappoint. During the opening session at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, Executive Director, Jim McMahon asked first time attendees to stand up. It was eye opening at how many there were. While I couldn’t count that fast, I would estimate it to be about 30% of the room, which held a few hundred people. Flipping through the directory of the RSA member list, the section titled, “future rink operators” also looks promising. These are the people doing their preliminary homework ahead of opening a roller skating facility.

The parties

The conference workshops covered everything from insurance, marketing strategies, motivational speakers, and the usual “how to drive revenue” seminars. The evening parties are also a hit among attendees. This year we were treated to a show by the LA Roller Girls during the “All White” party. I was all the way in the back, so my video doesn’t do justice to these ladies’ talents. Plus, they stuck around for a meet and greet after their performance. They also offered up additional photo ops during the trade show.

Want to bring some unique talent to your next event? Hire the LA Roller Girls.

Sure Grip Pacer Party

On Tuesday night, Sure Grip and Pacer hosted the Revolution Party featuring a Beatles tribute band. Every year, these two skate manufacturers sponsor a party, and this year they knocked it out of the park with the Beatles theme.

Sure Grip and Pacer sponsor an annual party. This year’s theme featured a Beatles Tribute Band and products were given away throughout the show.

Trade Show Photos

As for the trade show, I got to spend a little time outside of our booth, getting photos of the new skates and meeting new people and reconnecting with the same folks I’ve seen every year since my first convention in 2014. I also met the Skate Critic, Ginger Matthews who received a personal invite from a board member to attend the show.

Skate Critic, Ginger Matthews, and LA Roller Girl Crystal Roseborough visited our booth at the RSA Convention and Trade Show on May 1st.
Candice Heiden from the LA Roller Girls stopped by our booth to say hi.
Atom Skates introduced a new line of art skates, due out by Christmas.
Roller Derby Elite‘s inline skates.
Chaya Skates are the newest brand to enter the scene.

Riedell Roller brought out their Reactor plates with high top boots and Reva Wheels.

Roller Bones Wheels and Bearings
Sure Grip Skates have been around for decades and their brand has evolved through the years.
Crazy Skates hails from Australia, with a US Distributor based in Indianapolis.
A bearing press that takes all sizes and widths of skate wheels from SkatesUS.
Caleb Pierson represents VNLA skates for RC Sports.
Lexie the service dog was at all of the events.

To everyone who put it together, from the team at the RSA, to the vendors who traveled near and far to bring us their products, thank you! And to readers of RollerSk8r, thank YOU for skating.

Categories
Featured New Rinks Rink Life

This new rink is keeping pace in its 1st lap

When 5 passionate skaters get together to open a roller rink, dreams can come true. In Southeastern Tennessee, an exciting story is unfolding at the Bristol Skateway, a small town rink that is gaining speed after its predecessor left the race. Bristol is famous for its Speedway. The new owners of the rink are laser focused on skating and are committed to furthering the sport.

The Pit Crew

The partnership (of WESK8) is made up of Debbie Williams and her significant other, Gary Easmunt who is the Master of Ceremonies during most of the sessions and a skate instructor and former champion. Debbie manages the snack bar and admissions. They are joined by Gary’s sister, Patti Enstrom, and husband and wife team, Grant and Jennifer Showalter. Grant handles social media. Jennifer’s an architect who oversaw the renovations of the shuttered bank-owned rink formerly known as the Skate Inn. The previous owner disappeared leaving an empty building that needed some serious love.

The Starting Line

The Bristol Skate Inn was bank owned when the WESK8 team stepped in to buy it.

The team of skaters had worked together at a Florida rink and had serious discussions about owning one for the better part of a decade. They looked for rinks that were for sale and found what they were looking for. After purchasing the Tennessee property in the first quarter of 2018, they totally rehabbed and rebranded the facility from top to bottom. It took some explaining to the finance company why the brand new wood floor cost more than the building. And since the previous owner got off track and abandoned the place, there were no records either. Without paperwork, their new business was considered a start-up. They had their work cut out for them, but they had the experience and passion to pull it off.

Gracie the pug supervises while Gary Easmunt & Debbie Williams insert the final pieces of new wood floor.

On Track to Win

Bristol Skateway, located in Bristol, Tennessee, reopened in late September of 2018.

They persevered and opened their doors in late September of 2018 with much publicity and eager fans. Now the Bristol Skateway averages 250-300 skaters every Friday night, along with with midweek sessions and an Adults only session on Saturday evenings. “I get some flak from parents who want us to be open to all ages on Saturday nights,” said co-owner Debbie Williams. “I remind them that when their kids turn16 they’re going to want someplace cool to go. They don’t want to skate around younger kids when they get to that age.”

Driving Guest Loyalty

The first week they were open, they sold 18 pairs of skates, and continue to gain speed. Debbie said they can’t keep skate catalogs or paper schedules in the building. Their frequent guests have also asked for discount program, which prompted them to offer loyalty punch cards. For every 10 admissions, skaters get a free pass to come back again. “We had 500 printed up and quickly sold 400 of them for $1 each to cover the cost of printing.”

A Baby Rink

They added a home school session on Wednesday mornings which started with 2 skaters, and has grown to 90 kids. In two months, they will open a baby rink for the smaller skaters just getting started. “We don’t have skatemate trainers,” remarked Debbie. “They don’t teach kids how to skate, and they give up too easily out of frustration. Instead we tell them about our lessons and get them into our classes.”

Expert Lessons

Recently the partners convinced World Class Instructor, Paul Hinton to come to Bristol to steer the lessons program. “We flew him up for a week from Florida and had him check out the rink and the town. He went home, quit his job, sold his condo, and joined us in March,” said Debbie. She added that he’s one of 5 World Class instructors in the nation and the skate classes are growing in attendance. They offer an advanced group class, semi-private lessons (4 to a class) and private lessons. His skaters will soon be competing in regionals in Greensboro, NC, with a future goal to host a meet at the Bristol Skateway.

World Class Skater Paul Hinton is now coaching at the Bristol Skateway.

The Concession Stand

Over in the snack bar, all food is made to order and delivered to guest tables within 6-8 minutes. Some of the items on the menu include barbecued pulled pork, pizza, macaroni and cheese, churros and funnel cakes. And they also offer gluten-free items.

The Sideline

Additionally the Skateway generates other income-producing activities. For example, when the rink is normally closed, local vendors, such as those selling their wares online can rent the parking lot. These people bring the items they sell online and hang out for few hours to wait for their buyers to show up. The 60-80 participants pay $3 a car to use the lot which includes access to the restrooms. “Many buy food from our snack bar to eat here or take home,” Debbie said. While the parking lot swap meet brings in extra income to the rink when the building is normally dark, it also brings potential customers who may not have heard that the rink is open again.

The rink provides a place for locals to exchange items bought and sold online.

Winning the Race

It takes a lot of time, energy, focus, and passion to reach any goal in life and that includes successfully operating a roller skating rink. Debbie shared their team’s priority with the RollerSk8r on their strategy, “We’re a roller rink first.”

Editor’s Note: Find more pictures of the rink’s rehabilitation on their Facebook page.

Categories
Featured Yester Sk8

Oaks Park

A roller rink with a theatre pipe organ.

by Alan Bacon, National Museum of Roller Skating (reprinted with permission)

Oaks Park is one of 11 trolley parks still operating in the United States. Built in the early 1900s by transportation companies to enhance ridership on weekends, The Oaks Roller Skating Rink is part of a Portland, Oregon amusement park. It has the only Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ still in use today in a roller skating rink. This one instrument is an orchestra in itself, with enhanced sounds made for silent movie theaters. It’s different from a church pipe organ.

The Oak’s Wurlitzer organ has 1,500 pipes and there are only two other organs like it. It was originally built in 1926 and used at Portland’s Broadway Theatre. In 1955, the organ was installed at Oaks Park. It wasn’t the rink’s first theatre pipe organ. In 1922, the rink installed a William Wood theatre pipe organ, perhaps the first roller skating rink in the United States with such an organ.

Many regional theatre organ societies exist in the U.S. One is called the Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society (PSTOS), it has a section devoted to the history of 17 roller skating rinks that once had theatre pipe organs in Oregon and Washington.

Rinks hired unemployed organists

When talkie movies came about in the late 1920s, many theatre pipe organs were sold cheaply and there were a lot of talented, yet out of work
organists looking for jobs. Roller skating rinks benefited from this historical phenomenon.

The rotunda floor at The Oaks measures 100 by 200 feet.
One of many pictures displayed at The Oaks highlights past annual skating shows.
Flood destroyed the floor in 1948.

Flood Safe Floor

Because of its location next to the Willamette River, Oaks Park has flooded three times. After the first occurrence in 1948, a new skating floor was built with iron barrels, which allows the floor to be cut loose when the water starts rising. This saved the rink from floods in 1964 and 1996.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in “Rolling Through Time,” the official newsletter of The National Museum of Roller Skating. Please support the museum by becoming a member to keep our history alive.