"The bottom line is ... the industry is not dying"
The message on the answering machine at the Fastbreak Family Entertainment Center in Salem, Ohio, is a sad one:
"I'm sorry," a man (perhaps, the owner) says in a shaky voice, "but this business is now out of business. I appreciate your call and concern. Thank you very much, and I am very sorry that we had to do this."
The closing of the Fastbreak roller rink is not happy event. The rink was one of the most prominent in Ohio. In November, it hosted one of the stops on the Ohio Speedskating Tour, a regional inline racing event. And in December, it hosted the Ohio State Jam Skating Championships.
But to say that the rink's closing signals a larger crisis for the indoor skating industry is probably a mistake.
"The industry is not dying"
"The bottom line," says Wendy King of Roller Skating Association International, "is that there are a lot of rinks, especially smaller rinks, that are struggling. But the industry is not dying. ... There are lots of challenges for rinks today. But they are definitely holding their own."
Membership in the Roller Skating Association (based in Indianapolis, Ind.) has held steady at 1000 for the past several years, King said. "We are seeing some rinks closing. But we are seeing new ones opening up all the time."
It is unclear what led to the closing of the Fastbreak rink. No one could be reached there for comment.
But rinks all over the country have faced higher heating bills this winter due to the rising price of oil, King said.
Another budget breaker has been the cost of licensing music to play during public skating sessions. "One company recently increased its rates 400 percent," King said.
Rink operators have also had to spend more for liability insurance. The premium hikes came after the 9-11 disaster caused insurance companies to raise their rates. Liability insurance for rinks can run anywhere from $3,000 to more than $10,000 a year, King said.
The Disco Age
The glory days for the roller rinks, at least in recent history, came in the 1970s when disco was at its peak. Investors started opening rinks all over to cash in on the roller disco craze.
But many of those rinks have closed, King said.
The association doesn't keep statistics on the number of rinks in the country. King said the number has dropped since the 1970s, but she added that the decline has not been as precipitous as some have reported.
"There are probably not as many rinks as there were ten years ago. But we are probably talking about a decrease of a couple hundred, not a thousand!"
Copyright © 2006 by Robert Burnson