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Roller skating rink revival: Small town shows the power of a community coming together

Posted at 3:25 PM, Oct 18, 2022

While everyone was isolated during the worst of the pandemic, there was a boom in at-home rollerskating. When people got back into more typical life, the passion for roller skating continued. A rink that closed down just before the pandemic in Scarborough, Maine, has come back in a big way.

Roller skaters from the area say Happy Wheels is a generational gathering place.

"I didn't have a lot when I was a kid," roller skater Clayton Kennedy said. "You could get into a ring for 35 cents."

"Every Tuesday, this is date night," roller skater Dianna Gaudreau said.

Happy Wheels is one of the many skating rinks in the country that opened its doors in the 70s. However, in December 2019, Happy Wheels met the fate of so many others and closed down.

"Oh it was sad, it was sad," roller skater Tim Gaston said. "Forty-six years of my life in that building, you know?"

"I wanted to ball my eyes out," Happy Wheels worker Oleg Serikov said.

Derek Fitzgerald had worked for Happy Wheels for 25 years. He grew up in the building.

"You know, you pull the rug out from somebody for their job is one thing, but people that work here and people that skate here, it's their way of life," Fitzgerald said.

When the building was sold, he couldn't stop it from closing.

"I think that they just had a lot of other companies under their corporate umbrella, if you will," Fitzgerald said. "So this was an easy and easy thing to try to sell off and reduce their corporate footprint. So they sold it to a developer and the developer didn't need the roller rink, but needed the property."

According to the Roller Skating Association, there are about 1,400 skating rinks across the country. During the pandemic and shortly after, 35 to 40 closed down due to people retiring or financial concerns.

In Scarborough, Fitzgerald and the community were determined to open it back up. So Fitzgerald bought a new building and became the owner of the new location. Everybody chipped in to make it happen.

"A lot of volunteers came in that were former employees or just friends that have skills like carpentry or have skills were laying tile or painting or hanging doors," Fitzgerald said. "So we literally put the place together."

"My father was a carpenter, so I had some kind of knowledge and we just did a lot of stuff, put the railings up with the built the concession area and just a lot of different things," Gaston said.

Fitzgerald says opening a rink is a significant investment that doesn't have a fast return.

"You don't see a lot of rinks being built from this from the ground up," Fitzgerald said. "This is probably one of the first in probably at least a decade in the country."

Fitzgerald may be the first of many to come. The Roller Skating Association says 84 people are registered as 'future members' looking to open rinks all over the U.S.

For Fitzgerald and all his friends that have become family, re-opening Happy Wheels was more than worth it.

"Place has got a pretty good crowd tonight," Kennedy said. "It's been like this since it opened. And it's going to be like this as long as people can move."