February 24, 2018
It’s been just over three weeks since the last roller session ended at Pla-Mor Roller Rink in Euclid, Ohio , and four weeks since the last Thursday night session there. The neighboring rink in Wickliffe, United Skates of America (USA), also known affectionally by skaters as “The A,” opened their doors to a new Thursday Adult Skate Night on February 22, 2018 at 9:00 PM.
The people at USA were certainly aware of the rumor that Pla-Mor would close because a number of their regular skaters would also skate at Pla-Mor. When Pla-Mor finalized their closing date of January 30th, USA responded to the calls of a passionate group of skaters that were imploring them to open up their own Thursday night session. It had to be a difficult decision for them to do this, because they had done this once before–after the abrupt closing of Pla-Mor’s predecessor, the Rollerdrome, in August of 2008 . This time around, the people at USA once again stepped up to fill the void of those who just wanted to show up on Thursday and skate. It is all about the love and devotion of skating.
Every skating rink has its good points and its not so good ones, but the love of skating overcomes a multitude of flaws. (This sounds a lot like a bible verse, but it is true just the same.)
The A has its share. They had lost a number of adult skaters when they shortened the floor length to provide laser tag as an additional source of revenue. This was many years ago–much longer than I can recall, but a number of skaters has not let go of this issue. There are hard feelings about the change. USA had, at its inception, one of the largest skating surfaces in the area. It extended well into the area where there are presently benches and chairs installed behind a concrete barrier. To go from one of the largest to one of the smaller surfaces was quite a shock, for sure; however, I don’t think many people understand what roller rinks have had to do to remain viable for business and survive the times. Purists of the sport could care less about accommodating laser tag. The reality is that insurance costs and upkeep of the facilities are hard, non-optional expenses. Many skating rinks with poor revenue along with spiraling costs have succumbed to this phenomenon. The people of my generation remember adult sessions at Southgate Skates (Maple Heights), Roller Palace (Mayfield Heights), and Rollercade (Akron), along with a handful of other rinks that weren’t open long enough to render an emotional response. With Pla-Mor’s departure, USA is all that remains for adult skating sessions. It was unpopular to shorten the floor, of course, but the additional revenue, along with steady promotions of birthday parties, is the reason that it remains open today. It is, for our purposes today, the last rink standing.
With all of its flaws (and there were many), Rollerdrome/Pla-Mor was the popular favorite for skaters, including me, for a long time. I have lamented over the demise of Pla-Mor and what could have been done differently, but it is noteworthy that Rollerdrome apparently had the same issues years earlier before it closed without warning in 2008. Neither of these operations had additional revenue streams beyond birthday parties, and the building was in poor condition for quite some time. In my opinion, I believe this recent closing is permanent. It will take some time for those devoted to Pla-Mor to acknowledge this change as a lasting one.
As for transportation to USA, it is worth noting that getting there from the south and west is relatively straight forward, but I have not forgotten (nor should you) about the consistent presence of speed traps in the Wickliffe area. If you travel Euclid Avenue in Wickliffe from I-90 to go to the rink, let the speed limit be your friend, and that’s at 25 MPH. If you stray too far, you WILL get pulled over. It was commonplace even back in the day. For this trip, I avoided Euclid Avenue and just took Route 2 to East 305th Street. The down side to that path is the railroad tracks across East 305. The upside is that the rink a short drive from there.
It had literally been ten years since my wife and I last went to USA. Last night’s session started with the effort of getting reacquainted with how they run their operation. My wife and I entered through the turnstiles and we paid our admission to a nice lady at the cash register. Immediately after that we were greeted by a kind security guard who is passing out ID cards that you have to fill out for a liability waiver. My wife and I kept the cards that we filled out there in 2008 on the luggage tags of our skate bags, so adding the new ones was a formality. We greeted our friends who had arrived before us, and there was no one skating yet (it was after 9:00 PM) because the DJ was playing some sort of music that clearly was not for our session. Not a great look for a new session, but I decided to just put on my skates and see what would happen. The first real song played was Rise by Herb Alpert, and it was only then that a couple of skaters got on the floor to get moving.
When I got on the floor, I was pleasantly surprised. In all honesty, my expectation of a decent session was dependent upon the quality of the skating surface. A few months back at Pla-Mor, I had taken a hard fall after a screw gave way on a front truck of one of my skates. I since got a new pair of skates with new wheels and a lower profile, but I never felt totally comfortable skating on Pla-Mor’s floor. Pla-Mor’s floor was actually quite dirty, and so much so that your wheels on the surface could lose contact and slide out of control. I had gotten used to this as the new norm. USA’s floor was actually quite clean, and the grip on the surface was fantastic! I had gotten used to a dirty floor and expected something similar at USA because ten years before the floor was not all that clean back then. According to management, this was a newer floor (about six years old), and while it was not perfect (a couple of small dips here and there and what looked like water damage by a side doorway), it was decent. I could actually skate a little faster around the outside and keep by balance for the duration of my skating time. The grip was really tight and firm–so much so that I felt enough irritation that I thought was a blister forming in my right skate. It did not turn out to be a blister, but it will be a reminder to make sure that I have thicker socks for next time.
The floor surface at USA now is smaller than what I remember. It is not as small as the intimate confines were at Southgate, but it is slightly wider, for sure. The floor is still a decent size, but it is not seem to be a perfect oval. It may be perception, but the floor skates on the outside more like a large rectangle. That took a little getting used to, as there is also a “box” painted in the middle of the floor that seems to be closer to the wall in front of the benches and chairs than to the other outside wall near the DJ booth. There seems to be a lot more room out there, but I need to measure it more closely to be sure. The box still gives the appearance of the floor being shaped like a rectangle. When skaters are moving slowly around that “box” skating backwards or stepping on its outside, it leaves very little room for passage around them. You will either have to skate between them or take a complete line around them against the wall. It would be an issue if the floor surface was in any way slippery. It was a problem for one skater–an older gentleman who was a beginner of sorts. He kept his feet but was unaware of the tight confines at the corners. A mental note for the future, for sure.
The music got progressively better as the night went on. The spinning jazz and Old School R&B music, as advertised, was evident throughout, and overall it did get people moving. The sessions for Sadie Hawkins, Trios and Crazy Couples were a little too long for my taste. It kept skaters off the floor for longer than I wanted. There was also supposed to be a ladies skate and an all men’s skate, but I left before those took place (if they happened). The tweaks for music would be to shorten the songs during the special skates. Knowing the group of skaters as I do, someone will say something to the DJ about it!
Some people skate more for the social experience, for sure, and that’s fine. There were a number of hugs and hellos for skate friends who had been at Pla-Mor, and this was like a family reunion. There were even a couple of people who decided to Periscope as they held their phones up rolling around the rink. For me, it was all about getting back into a routine that was sadly broken a few weeks ago. USA even put out a spread of free food and snacks as something of an olive branch to welcome people back that had not been there for many years. It was a very nice gesture, and it showed the sensitivity of the moment for skaters who had just lost their home rink.
With this new introduction to USA’s Thursday night session, it was much like an open house or a test drive of a new car. I liked what I saw, and so did many others. Some people that I thought would show up did not. There are a number of true rollers that are holding out hope beyond hope for Pla-Mor to rise from the ashes and re-open. The last go-round with Pla-Mor and its lack of financial depth shows that a reboot, which would be exceedingly expensive, is unlikely. I would rather put my energy and effort into what works for me and my wife right now. We just want to move and we love to skate. We would love to have more choices. Today, we have only have one.
Things look good for now. We’ll see how it goes in the coming weeks, and perhaps then we’ll buy The A as our new home rink.
Copyright © Melvin Gaines. All rights reserved.