Roller skating rinks in Minnesota are apparently the new drive-in theater. Nice for nostalgia but disappearing fast.
“We went down to Walt Disney World once and wore our sweatshirts, and people ask ‘That place is still open?'” co-owner Brett Rohl, 52, tells the PB. “Every time people see it, they can’t believe it’s still going.”
Because not many are.
Cue the memories:
Lisa Morehead, 52, of Brownsdale, grew up a block away and remembered spending many hours there every weekend. Still living in Brownsdale, she noted that the business continues to bring in people from out of town.
“We got to make friends other than just those from school,” Morehead said. “It didn’t surprise me back in the day. It was the place to be. There used to be buses that went to Austin (and) Dodge Center to pick kids up. They may have even gone to Albert Lea.”
It was the largest roller rink in the area when it was built in 1955, and rebuilt in 1970. Nearby rinks in Waseca and Dodge Center have since closed.
The owners say most of the customers are people who skated at the rink when they were younger.
“There were parked cars on every street block around, and in the lot,” Rohl said. “We lose the skaters once they get their driver’s license, and all of the sudden, they’re back with their kids. They say ‘I’m back’ and they bring their kid who’s old enough to skate.”
Roller skating was once considered an upper-class activity, according to James Vannurden, a historian at the National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln, Neb.
With the invention of the four-wheel skate after the Civil War, men showed up to skate in tuxedos and women in formal dresses, he told The Atlantic.
Not until labor laws were passed in the ’20s did the activity catch on.
“Prior to that, people had to work 12 to 14 hour days,” Vannurden said. “With labor laws enacted, workers didn’t have to work as hard, and [this legislation] opened up roller skating to the masses. It wasn’t an upper class activity anymore.”
The Depression wiped out a lot of rinks but disco created a boom for them in the ’70s.
“Rinks opened up just because of [disco] and catered to roller disco skating,” Vannurden said. “It was the talk of the town.”
But disco gave way to the recessions of the ’80s.
“When the interest waned, [some of these disco skating rinks] closed,” Vannurden said. “Rinks that did not adequately prepare for a time after roller disco really took it hard. And when the interest waned, they closed.”
Rollerblading brought a second boom but people have moved on although Vannurden says the popularity of roller derby has kept the spark alive.
Whether that keeps the rink in Brownsdale open isn’t clear.
Nobody has made an offer on the place yet.