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Featured Gear Rink Life

Why Rinks are Changing their hours and Drop-off Policy

Several roller-skating rinks around the country are closing earlier and enforcing strict policies regarding kids under a certain age from being dropped off without adult supervision. The cutoff age for unaccompanied teens is typically younger than 16 for a Friday or Saturday night. There is a caveat, though. If the dropped-off kids (regardless of their age) have their own skates, they can stay without their parents in tow. A handful of adults have complained on social media. One cried out that it’s a slap in the face to “poverty-stricken” families (their words, not mine). She unfairly accused a rink operator of being greedy, assuming the reason for the skate policy is to sell more skates from their pro shop. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s break it down.

Prior to COVID-19, rinks were in a bit of a slump. Few, if any reached full capacity, or even 50% on any given night. Admission prices were always low, even though theaters, trampoline centers, and amusement parks charge much higher rates. It’s amazing to me how many rinks have stayed in business all these years with low prices and few customers to support it.

COVID-19 Changed Everything.

Fast-forward to 2020. Rinks got locked down along with the rest of us stuck at home. Those of us who skate consistently went a bit stir crazy. Kids without regular activity started getting restless as well.

As rinks were given the green yellow light to open, most had to start with either 25 people, 25 percent, or some other arbitrary number issued by their state governors. One Ohio rink owner consistently sold out of advance tickets online and had to turn people away at the door because of the limited capacity. This led to a lot of arguments as well. No one wanted to see this happen. But what choice do they have? They were forced to do so by the health department.

Staying Alive.

You can’t make the mortgage, pay the utilities, insurance, employees, and other expenses on 25 people. That’s why loans were taken out in order to remain in existence. According to Ginger Mathews, aka The Skate Critic, 1,234 rinks are still in operation. And that number is dwindling.

This month, as more COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted, people are headed to roller rinks in droves. In my 40+ years of watching the industry, I have never seen such excitement. Last weekend there was a line wrapped around the building at my local Skate Center with people eager to get in.

Lockdown and emotions.

For diehards like me, I’m happy to see others come to the rink. However, teens driven by emotions and hormones have been causing some trouble. These are the ones who show up, don’t skate and get into fights. The video goes viral and then no one wants to skate there anymore. It’s been problematic at trampoline parks, too. Even Bath and Body Works had an incident this past week with violence erupting between 2 adults waiting in line. The lockdowns have us all pent-up, and we need an outlet.

Why rinks are changing policies.

These new policies at roller rinks are a step in the right direction. People who show up with skates are there to skate. Non-golfers don’t hang out on the course. Kids who don’t practice karate don’t loiter at the dojo. And non-skaters shouldn’t be hanging out in roller rinks. In fact, a North Carolina rink operator with 3 locations explained on their Facebook page that 99% of the problem kids do not own their own skates.

Cutting out the drama.

Parents who accompany their kids provide added supervision in the rink. Kids are usually better behaved around their parents. Those who are not civil tend to be the drop-offs that the parents want to get rid of for a few hours to get away from them for a needed a break. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has to deal with their kid’s bad behavior, and it’s the business owners who bear the brunt when their other customers are chased away. Those who love to skate are not there for the drama. Plus there’s the negative publicity that comes with it when videos start circulating on social media and end up on the evening news.

For skaters, owning is better than renting.

As for the poverty-stricken mom whining about the “price” of buying skates, she should look at the big picture and do the math. Shelling out $4-5 to rent skates once a week for 52 weeks adds up to an additional $200 per kid (which can instead be invested in equipment.) Owning a pair will not only save money every time they go skating (and make them better skaters), they can resell those skates or hand them down to a sibling once they outgrow them.

Renting generates more revenue for rinks

If you think rink owners make more off selling skates vs. renting, then you are mistaken. The markup is really slim and is taxable to the business. The skate pro puts in the time to ensure a good fit, place the order, and adjust them to the skater’s needs. Once they sell a pair of skates, they’ll never receive rental income again from that person.

It’s not greed that spurred this policy. It’s emotionally-driven out-of-control teens and the goal of keeping all guests safe.

I wish all rinks would implement this policy. So far it’s working to maintain civility, enhance safety, and provide a better experience for those who want to skate. Rink owners are reporting positive results as well!

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Featured Rink Life

Attendance is Up at Roller Rinks.

So is the cost of entry.

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.

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Featured Recreational / Session Rink Life

The Case for Indoor Skating

Don’t forget the roller rink.

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.

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Featured Recreational / Session Rink Life

Re-opening Roller Rinks amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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!

Operational Changes

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.

See you at the rink.

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Featured National Parties Rink Life Rink Meetups Top Rinks Trips

Skate the Golden State

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.

Richard Humphrey
Richard Humphrey, founder of RollerDance.com teaches lessons from his studio in San Francisco.

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.   

Ginger Mathews, Tim Laskey, and Susan Geary at Sunrise Rollerland in Citrus Heights, CA.
Ginger Mathews, Tim Laskey, and Susan Geary at Sunrise Rollerland in Citrus Heights.

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.  

King's Skate Country.

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.

Church converted into a disco roller rink.
The Church of 8 Wheels is a renovated vintage church which hosts disco roller skating every weekend in San Francisco.

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.

Interior shot of the Aloha Roller Rink with illuminated poles covered with brightly colored inner tubes.
The Aloha Roller Rink is situated in a former Sports Chalet at the East Ridge Mall in San Jose, California.

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.

The first hour of 2RAW had skaters warming up before the lights went down and the bigger crowd showed up.

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.

David Miles, dressed in a red hoody and a sparkly red and gold hat.
David Miles, founder of the Church of 8 Wheels, also facilitates a weekly outdoor skate at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

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.  

Indoors at the Paradise Skate Roller Rink in Antioch, California
Paradise Skate in Antioch, California.

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.