I first roller skated as a youngster at age 10 at "Chev Vou" in Upper Darby and also at Berwyn shortly after. I was part of Donald Boyer's "Saturday Activity Group" that did activities on Saturdays. Skating was infrequent, only 2-3 times a year, but I had fun. I was only part of the group for a few years and didn't skate for some time after. I was many years later before I skated again, this time during summer camp in New hampshire, when campers were treated to a skating party. Again, I had lots of fun.
My studies took me to Valparaiso Indiana, and while I was attending Valparaiso Technical Institute, (1963-1965), an opportunity came up. One night while at Valpo in my first year, someone yelled out in the dorm one Friday Night "anyone want to go roller skating"? Three of us drove 18 miles to a rink near Gary, Indiana called Oakridge Roller Rink. I was hooked. The rink was big, clean, and had good music. It became an every weekend activity and it went from one night to 2 nights. The original guy who took the first group dropped out of school. One of the others taught me how to hitchhike and we did together a few times. I was soon on my own but I was hooked on the super organ music played by Earl Humphry. Sometimes, I would arrive early. One night, a skating instructor saw me in the lobby before opening and invited me in to observe his class. I was soon a participant and learned dance skating. I still often think of Jim Darling, the instructor, who got me started. I soon became friends with the two brothers who owned the rink, Harold and Donald Shur. I fixed their tape recorder on one occassion. I was asked to floor guard on 2 matinee sessions near my last days in Valpo.
While I was at Valpo Tech, I got this crazy notion that I would want to one day own a roller rink that was as big and nice as Oakridge. I would want to play organ music instead of records. I learned that people skated to the music, keeping in step.
I learned in my last year at Valpo that the rink would be torn down because of a new highway that was to go in. I did hear that a new rink was built to take its place. I never saw it. I would like to find out more about the new rink and exactly where it is. I was under the impression that it was in Hobart Indiana, but I could never find any information about it. Although I was studying electronics, I enjoyed roller skating and the people in the rink so much that I had visions of one day owning a rink.
After graduation, I returned home (in Merion) and found a job (A T & T Long Lines in Wayne). It was at least a year before I heard the word roller skating again, and that was on my ham radio. That led to a trip and meeting with a few guys out at the Berwyn Roller Rink, some 40 minutes away. That started me skating again. They played records most of the time, but they did have some tapes of organ music.
My parents were moving to Florida and I was bribed with getting my own boat of my choosing if I would move down with them. My ham friends and skating friends were more important than a boat or moving to Florida. I had to find a place to live, and one day on the way home from the Berwyn rink, I found a cute little house in Devon, just minutes from Berwyn. My parents helped me by co-signing the mortgage.
I was soon working at Berwyn Roller Rink, helping to play the music and floor guarding. Although I liked skating and people, the music there left alot to be desired. One night, I was handed a new tape and asked to play it. It was organ music by Bill Clark. I liked it. The rink owner told me not to play too much of it because most skaters wouldn't like it. Pop, as he was called, (O'Connell) told me that the organist, Bill Clark, had built a new rink in Douglasville. I sought it out. It took almost an hour to get there from my house in Devon. I saw this new clean modern rink playing all organ music. I was hooked on it. I purchased, with my own money, new tapes from Bill Clark at commercial prices to play at Berwyn but the owner only allowed limited time with the organ tapes. Meanwhile, I spent more and more time at CC Skate Ranch in Douglasville. I left Berwyn and found other rinks including Exton, Allentown, Emaus, Shillington, Lancaster, and even Harrisburg.
I floorguarded at Exton for a short time and finally landed a job floor guarding at CC Skate Ranch in Douglasville on some evenings and matinees.
There was no modern rink close to where I lived. Exton, 20 minutes away, was old and not so clean. The sound system was really bad (it always had a loud hum). I wanted to help them fix it, but they didn't want anyone touching the sound system.
I was formulating ideas of running my own rink again. It would be big, clean, and have a good floor and sound system. I had this idea that I could run a rink while working for AT&T but didn't know how I was going to do it financially. It seemed impossible. Most of my fellow employees knew my interests were ham radio and roller skating. I even told them of my idea and they thought I was nuts.
One of my ham radio projects, connected to my ham radio to my home telephone line. I could make calls and answer my home telephone from my car and from a handheld portable walkie talkie. Since I lived on a high hill, the system worked in Douglasville, Reading, Wilmington, and even over into Jersey. I used an acustic coupler and solonoid lift on a cradle to control and connect to the phone line. Since I worked for the Bell System, I wanted to be careful how I connected everything. When Bell started providing couplers for rent, I switched over to one of them and the quality became much better.
One night, while waiting in the parking lot at the Exton Rink, a call came in on my home phone which gave a loud audible ring in the car. I answered it and some guy (Ken) came up to see what was going on. I explained my system and he proceeded to tell me about something he was using. He told me he could call all over the world for free using his special "unit". I told my supervisor at work about him and even told a friend in the AT&T district office. Both told me it wasn't possible. When I saw Ken again, I asked him more about his "unit". He told me much more and he even found my number at work and called me. I was trying to find out all I could and even approached my boss and friend in the District office again. I even attempted to find someone else within the Bell System to talk to about Ken. I finally found the right security department after being forwarded to the "securities department (stocks) the prior week. After that call, it took only hours before Bell Security homed in on my house with a search warrant.
Bell Security had already been tapping Ken's phone and they thought that we were conspiring together. Without investigating, (guilt by association) a security officer, desiring headlines, decided to have a blast. He had me and this other guy arrested. That story is elsewhere on this collection of web pages. That was the turning point and the roller rink now became a reality. My dad helped arrange financing and we were "rolling". We studied the finances and looked at land from Bala Cynwyd to Morgantown and Collegeville to Concordville, including King of Prussia, Lionville, and Broomall. Choices were narrowed down to Berwyn, Newtown Square, and Kimberton. I had a Realtor friend, Lois Fitzgerald, who helped me look for property. Lois' daughter was a competitive skater, who turned professional.
The plans for the rink had originally been drawn up for it to be located in (Tredyffrin Township) Berwyn, Pa. The initial plans were designed by Gene Mitchell and turned into professional drawings by Schlosser Steel of Hatfield, Pa. The plans were a cumulation of ideas from all the rinks visited for several years in Southeastern Pa, NJ, and Delaware. A 3D model was made to study and also show around. I needed a property of the right size in the right location, and at the right cost.
The initial property was the "Borrough's Computer Property in the Howellville section of Berwyn. Although the property was already zoned commercial, every new building in this and many townships required a "Special Exception" from the zoning board. We went into the zoning hearing and were turned down. The following week, I went into the township building to pick up the plans and papers to take them to the alternate building location in East Pikeland Township. John Standafor, the zoning officer asked why I was picking them up, that I would need them for the appeal. I informed him we were not appealling, that we were going elsewhere. He then told me, the area needs a new and good rink and that it was standard procedure to turn down everything the first time. Our answer was that it was too late. Our alternate site was without all this trouble and somewhat cheaper.
The land for Kimberton Rollerama was purchased in May 1972 from Ogden Fitzsimons, through Coffman Real Estate. The broker was Ollie Mosteller. It was approximately 4 acres in size and located across from the Kimberton Fire Company Fairgrounds on Rt 113 in Kimberton, Pa. A portion of the land included a rise on one side and slopped to a low area on the other. It was necessary to move a good portion of earth for the building and parking. A bill board at the north end and on the hill came down because Southeast National Bank would not release use to us. The agreement of sale included the standard contingencies of financing and a building permit. We applied to the township, and since the LI zoning included "indoor recreation", our permit was issued with in days. Financing had been previously obtained from the former "Great Valley" project. Construction started near the end of June, 1972, although it was slowed initially by a hurricane.
The general contractor was Parzych Construction of Quakertown, Pa, who had a lot of experience building rinks in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Among the rinks built by Parzych were Shillington and Allentown Skateaways and after ours, CCM in Hatfield. Schlosser Steel, the local dealer of "Star Buildings" also did these other rinks and had experience working with Parzych. The "clear span" and special requirements for flooring were most inportant.
Kimberton Rollerama was initially 22,000 square feet, 100 by 220. The skating floor was 179 by 79 feet, although it was originally supposed to be 180 by 80. The floor was 33/32 grade #2 hardwood maple (the best skating floor) with a base of cement, sealer, and 2 layers of plywood laid at 45 degrees. The material was an upgrade as the "3/4" material was in short supply at the time of building the rink. The floor company was Tillinghas of Texas who specialized in maple skating floors all over the country. There were 5 foot aisles on 3 sides and a 15 foot aisle on the front long side. The seating was manufactured by Daglee Seating of Philadelphia. Daglee also supplied the snackbar booths. The building was 16 inch block for 4 foot high walls and steel double wall with insulation. Interior walls were also all block. The ceiling was 2 inch thick Tectum, an insulated material and the roof was "built up" asphalt. I designed it as indestructable and fireproof as possible. The entire building was built for minimum maintenance and durability. We ran into union trouble at the time the roof was to go on. The union was having difficulties with the Holiday Inn in Lionville and their trouble spread to most building projects in the area. We were forced into extra expense with a union installed roof at the last minute. As we also found out later and the hard way, roofs on large clear span buildings are not maintenance free and require recoating every 2-3 years. We were told this was the best roof, even though we had problems. Apparently, the steel roofing is even harder to maintain.
After purchasing the property, we placed a sign "Coming Soon, Roller Skating Rink" on the property. There was alot of interest and people from the community stopped by during construction to ask about it. Construction was delayed by the Hurricane at the end of June (72). During construction, and also during the time of the Kimberton Fair (end of July), there was an accident where an ice cream truck overturned onto the rink property at our entrance. One section of the rink at one end was kept open for construction equipment. A joker came inside with his pickup and drove around one night.
Kimberton Rollerama officially opened Friday December 1, 1972 at 8 PM. Skating did start Wednesday, 2 days before, with over a hundred skaters, after local passerbys inquired as to the status. Almost everything was completed, except for the railing and seating. There was only word of mouth to bring these people in. Advertising went out to the Evening Phoenix, the Daily Local, and the Times Herald for the Grand Opening. I think it also went out to the Pottstown Mercury as well. On opening night, all available rental skates were out. The crowd was estimated at over 900 people. We had a skating exhibition on opening night with artistic competitive skaters coming from surrounding rinks to show the public what skating was all about. Vandalism struck the first nights with someone banging in several cars. This led to a watchman for the parking lot.
We opened with 2 rink organists: Ralph Brown and Joe Adamson. Ralph was really good, but he played mostly fast music. I hired Joe because he appeared to please the adult crowd with slow music. I wanted the adult night slow for an older crowd. Our Tuesday night "adult night" was consistantly good during all 15 years. After Joe passed away, Nancy Heyser eventually became the main Tuesday night organist in the last years - she was really good. Nick Viscuso also played on occassion before Nancy came, but since he was a full time exployee of another rink in the area, it was felt that there was a conflict. He was also an exceptional organist.
Our artistic Dance and Figure Club had about 180 members at one point in the first year. Mario was quite a promoter, although there were other situations where he caused consternations. He was asked to leave after his first year. Kimberton Rollerama hosted the 1974 State Championships. Ralph Brown, our organist received a job offer to manage a rink in Manasis, VA after he played our State Championship Meet. Lou Quinton, who owned many rinks in the NorthEast, made him an offer that we couldn't match. Ralph lasted there only a year or so, before returning to the area.
After Ralph left, we went through several organists. There was Les (forgot his last name) and some others that I don't recall. Mike Mixon was an exciting organist that came for a period. He convinced us to buy the Hammond Concorde, one of the new expensive organs that had the old sound as well as new sounds. He could really made it sound neat. His greatest creation was "Ina Goda Divida" which outlasted him to the end. It was the most requested tape in all the years of the rink after he left. Ralph came back in the 80's to play Saturday night, but there just wasn't enough organ music lovers left after Disco.
In 1977, I hired Marty Dumic, another top rink organist. He was also hired as manager to help me. Marty had quite a draw. He was good and actually got even better while there. I had always wanted to start a skating club based on "shuffle skating" as it was called. It was the perfect time, and the Kimberton Rock N Rollers was formed. Shuffle skating is skating to the music. Shuffle skaters skated more and enjoyed skaing more than those that just came to socialize. To become a member, you had to get 3 other members to sponsor you and you had to show you could skate to the music. The club kept growing and growing. Shuffle skaters skated more often. Marty left after a little over a year due to differences. A small rebellion or boycott was organized by a few skaters after Marty left, but it didn't hurt; the crowds not only remained , but were growing.
We were just coming into Disco at this time (1978) and crowds started to really grow. 1979, and part of 1980 were real good years. As a matter of fact, we started to fill to capacity again with crowds remaining at 700 skaters on Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. We did well on school nights too, although those sessions were usually about half the peak numbers.
It was only after the crowds started to drop in 1980 that we decided to install the "Wall of Lights" and other disco lighting. We had seen this lighting system at a skating convention in May of 1980. Disco was featured at the skating convention (Hawaii) and everyone who didn't play disco or use disco lights were led to believe that Disco music and lights was a big draw. So called experts said that if we changed to "Disco Music', the rink would be packed to the walls. It was after this that we changed music from organ to disco records. We went through the disco years playing 100% organ music and were filled to capacity, even having to order more rental skates. Everyone liked the lights but we found out that did not make a difference in increasing the crowds. Changing to Disco music actually drove skaters out.
The Disco craze came from a combination of the Pan American Game's press as well as the the fact that movie stars such as Cher got involved in Roller Skating. Almost everyone thought Disco was going to last. Several things went wrong that it didn't. First of all, "experts" declared DISCO dead. That didn't help. Also, new rinks sprang up all over, dividing the crowds. Many newer rinks had no rules or control over the crowds. Many teens went and stayed at rinks where they could do anything and no body cared.
The skating association ran some promotions that many rink operators felt "cheapened" our product (roller skating). The promotion flooded our rinks with free passes that we were supposed to honor and when they ran out, customers wanted more free passes. They learned that rink skating should be free. We had always used discount coupons with advertising and free coupons for the birthday person with parties, but never like we were flooded with. The skating association should have been doing national promotions with advertising rather than types they were using. They were not listening to members.
The skating association was not only out of touch, but out of control. There were other things it should have been doing with insurance, but influences led it astray. The association was totally revanped and renamed in the years after Kimberton closed.
Roller Skating should have made it into the Olympics, but that never happened either. Bill Coopersmith, who was greatly responsible for roller skating in the Pan Am games, was trying every way he could to bring that about. The insurance crisis of 1984-1985 did alot to destroy roller skating among other activities. There are more notes about the insurance crisis below.
Several things happened to make the rink operation more difficult than it should ever have been. On at least one occassion, in the beginning months, I was followed to my bank one night in Paoli. I had been given night deposit bags for the bank. Since I lived in Devon at that time, it wasn't too far out of the way. I had noticed one set of headlights the whole way and diverted to a shopping center where the car went on. I then went back to the bank. After reporting the event to the bank and police the next day, I decided night deposits were too risky. The rink was originally built with a very small apartment for nights I was too tired to drive home to Devon. I decided to stay at the rink alot from this point on.
One night, a man drove into the rink parking lot in the wee hours of the morning and I woke up. I looked out the pephole in the door and watched him take a sledge hammer out of his car. He was startled when I turned on outside lights. I went to the main glass dorrs where he saw me and he retreated quickly. A few days later, I was approached by 2 men at the rink that wanted me to pay into a protection fund that would guarantee that I would have no problems. They were asking for something like a $100 a week. I refused to pay. We suffered a rash of breakins and vandalism over the next year or so. We believed some of this by those we had thrown out. We counted about 17 incidences in the first 2 years. There was also a local group of teens that thought they were above everyone else. Police Chief Gates had become friendly with us and watched the building as close as he could.
I sold the house in Devon and rented a house around the corner from the rink until another house became available behind the rink 4 or 5 months later. We purchased this little farm house behind the rink on ajoining land to the rink just after our first year. Unfortunately, it was too close and the local "mob" of kids knew where we lived and caused trouble there. One night, Maria and I found several of them coming down our driveway in a pickup truck. They were surprised when we greeted them. We talked to them and at 130am, they were asking to be allowed back in the rink. If we hadn't been there or had been asleep, we probably would have been vandalized again. On several occassions, someone(s) broke into and vandalized the house while we were at the rink. When we were at home, they did the same to the rink. I had installed an underground wire between the rink and house and it carried both an alarm and audio. We heard crashes and the alarm would go off, but as close as we were, we still couldn't catch them.
My answer was to build a bigger apartment onto the rink. That worked. We sold the farm house, keeping some of the land behind the rink. We quickly got complete control one night. My dad had purchased a shotgun for me and one night I used it. A group of these hoodlems had come around the back of the rink at the opposite end. Our perimeter alarm went off. After that, we went years with no trouble.
The perimeter alarm was a laser beam that was hidden in the far corner of the rink and it bounced to a mirror across the parking lot. In addition, I had a radar motion detector at the near end. Both were used to notify us when someone crossed the beams so we could monitor the parking lot efficiently during and after hours.
About late 1979 or 80, the ice rink, Valley Forge Sports Garden, about 5 miles from us as the crow flies, converted to a roller rink because of the high energy expense. "Mountainview", as it became, was now our nearest competitor, a fierce one at that. One of its principles was a former employee who left because of irregularities, and who carried a vendita as far as he could go. He flooded Phoenixville, our home area, with free passes to their rink. It was estimated that at any one time by their manager, that almost half of their skaters were "freebees" that didn't pay to get into their rink because of the free tickets. This eventually caught up to them and Mountainview didn't last. Pollard, the original owner, took over Mountainview suddenly one day, and it became Valley Forge Skating Center. It lasted about another 2 years before being sold to SIMs clothing.
Mountainview indirectly caused alot of other problems. We had always had a strict behavior policy and those that didn't comply were asked to leave. Those usually ended up at Mountainview, which was only 10 minutes away. The new police chief said I ran the rink like a military camp. To get even, one or more of these skaters occassionally phoned in bomb threats to us. Most of the threats were discounted because the caller would tell us things that were impossible. They said they placed a bomb in the lockers or heater rooms earlier and this just wasn't possible, because people came in to skate, but no one left. We immediately would check the lockers anyway and, finding nothing. It was not possible to leave anything in the heater rooms because they were always locked and keys were very restricted (me and a part time policeman -George- who worked for us). Only on 2 occassions did we actually report the calls when we felt there was a possibility. Only once was the rink evacuated near the end of one adult session. We had had the phone company trace many of the calls, and there were a half a dozen that came back to the pay phone at Mountainview. On one specific occassion, a caller stated that our heaters would blow up and they didn't need to get into the rink. That call upset me more than any other because it was just before a private skating party. I really had a bad feeling and after an inspection, including the roof, I found a container of gas lowered into the heater stack by rope from the roof. This caused quite a situation, and the police chief tried to have the rink closed down. The police chief was already at odds with us because we had thrown his son out for smoking marajuana on the rink property. He threatened me one day and told me what he was going to do to me, not knowing there was a wittness in the back office working (Sue). That prompted a call to Jim Freeman, the County District Attorney, who assurred me that all would be resolved. It sorta was but co-operation with the police department was not the best.
Kimberton Rollerama had fewer accidents and incidents than many other rinks. In fact, our rink was known for strictness and that brought many parents with young children past other rinks to ours. It also paid off when lawyers tried to sue and they found that they couldn't make a case. We had signs in the lobbly stating our policy and we enforced the rules. We announced the rules and policy at the start of every session. When a skater didn't comply, a floor guard warned them. If they did not listen, they were brought to the office for the manager to warn them. If they still did not comply, the youth was brought to the office for a time out. If that doesn't work, parents are called to pick them up. Most potential accidents were prevented by keeping the speed under control and also the cutting across the floor or going the wrong way. These three things could cause serious accidents. It was this control that got us our good and strict reputation. The new police chief told me one day that I ran the rink like a military camp and that's why I had so much trouble with the teens. At least the trouble was on the outside and not inside.
Because there was no way to control an impulsive move of another skater, skaters still were skating at their own risk. Unfortunately, accidents can and do happen, and some did. Our record of only 6 lawsuits in 15 years was better than most other rinks around the country. Only 2 were ever settled because the insurance company considered them neusence suits and it was cheaper to settle than fight. No one ever went to court.
Other interesting stories:
One of the groups we hosted was an Intermediate Unit with all Spanish speaking kids. As they put their skates on, they were skating all over the place and in every direction. We made announcements to no avail. Then my wife came in. Since she spoke spanish, she grabbed the Mike, and in Spanish asked everyone to stop where they were. Silence reigned and everyone stopped. She rattled off some rink rules and started everyone skating in the same direction. You would think it was a different crowd.
First, there was a young kid who insisted on getting on top of the pinball machines while his skates were on. It would be bad enough even without skates but he just wouldn't listen. He was warned, brought to the office, given a timeout, and still went back to show off. I called his father who didn't show up till the end of the skating session and when he came in for his son, he asked why he was still in the office. We had told the father we wanted to talk to him. He stated that he dropped off his son to let off steam and that he should be allowed to do anything he wanted in our building after paying the entrance fee. He stated he saw nothing wrong with being on top of the machines and that's just what kids should do, be creative.
On another occassion, a father with his family of kids and wife decided he wanted to skate the opposite direction from everyone else one Thursday Family night. He did just that from the time he came in till 7 policeman had to physically carry him out. We tried to explain to him he was endangering others as well as himself. The first policeman also tried to explain that same to him. After the man physically knocked down several skaters, we had to announce him as a deliberate hazzard and stop skating. The first policeman called for assistance. He was first carried off the floor to get his skates off. After that, he went back out on the skating floor with no skates causing a hazzard. The policemen had to cuff him and carry him out of the building. He insisted he paid his money and could do anything he wanted. He refused to take his money back and claimed he was going to sue us. He never did. What an example he showed his kids!
A lady booked a skating party for her kid with about 40 skaters. They all skated and had a good time. They got their soda, ice cream, and pizza and every thing else she could think of. She kept running up a bigger and bigger tab. She paid by check. Her check bounced. It was over $200. I called her and she said she couldn't afford to make the check good and that I could afford to let the check go. I sent a certified request which she ignored. I went to the magistrate. She appeared at the hearing and told the judge the same story. The judge ordered payment. She said she still couldn't afford to pay. The judge allowed payments. She made one and then stopped paying. The judge issued a bench warrant. She was ordered to pay again or face jail. She had run up several hundred dollars more in court costs and it took several years to receive compensation as she paid only $5 a week. The court costs were collected first. Her party was estimated to cost over $500 including court costs and fines.
One Tuesday evening, during an adult session, I had gone out the back office door to put an envelope of bills in my car to take care of at home. Someone had jumped off the roof and landed on me, and they took the envelope of bills, probably thinking it was money. I caught a glimpse of the actor and believed him to be one that was recently asked to leave the rink.
On several occassions, I had been followed home from the rink as I mentioned previously. On another occassion in later years, when I lived in Charlestown Township, I was followed almost all the way home when I decided to loop through a neighbors driveway instead of mine. I had already contacted the state police through my ham radio and they were heading to the area. I got behind the car following me and he took off. He reached unbelievable speeds on our street and as a matter of fact, actually bounced off a tree on a very sharp curb. After that, he disappeared and I lost him. The police were not able to find him, although there was evidence that the car did hit the tree. On another occassion, my wife was with me. I had told her of times when cars would follow me. This night, we watched as a car turned on his lights on the top of the firehouse hill and came down and followed us. To show my wife what I go through, and that I was actually being followed, I decided to turn on Hares Hill Rd. The car followed. I quickly turned into Fitzsimon's driveway, turned around, and got behind the car, getting his license number. He had stopped at the driveway, puzzled at what I had done. He had not expected me to go where I did. With a mobile phone now in the car, I called police and gave them the information. The actor was confronted and dealt with by the police and fire company, as he was a fireman with nothing better to do with his time.
At one time, we had determined that food was disappearing and a pattern developed. We started to inventory food before and after every session. We were actually loosing food and snacks when no one was supposed to be in the rink, for instance an inventory showed a certain amount Monday night after a party, and Tuesday evening before the next session a different amount. We pinned one occassion down to Tuesday morning very early. George, a local policeman, and rink employee, and friend came in at 3AM on morning and we watched. An inventory was just completed. The pretzel delivery man helped himself to all kinds of goodies. We watched. We had been instructed by the chief of police to let it happen several times before acting. We did. You could not believe the anger that I felt watching and not able to act the first times. The inventory would confirm what he took each time. I am not just talking a few items either. Finally, his day came. He was nailed on the final day with another police unit coming from the outside. He was made to give restitution, although we had no way to actually know what he took all the other times in the past. We did receive some compensation. Most deliveries came in wee hours of the mornings and it was impossible to be there so many delivery men had keys to the snackbar, which basically was to most of the rink. The office areas were well alarmed. We had also had unscheduled skating sessions that we believed to be from this delivery man. On several occassions, teachers came in Sunday morning to find skates left all over the rink and nothing else seemingly disturbed.
One summer, we had an interesting experience. Our policy was always to have roller skating and no loitering, so skaters either had to rent skates or come in with them. One night, a few came in that claimed to have skates in our lockers. I instructed a floorguard to watch them. He came back and warned me there was going to be trouble, so I alerted more of our staff. They planted fireworks in a locker and ran. I identified them and someone else got a licence number. I also alerted skaters that they were to clear that area by way of the microphone just as the fireworks went off. Because of the warning, there was no panic. Police were called, given the information, and the actors arrested as they arrived at their destination, the Caln Roller Rink, about 10 miles away.
We watched our parking lot fairly carefully after incidents that took place early on. We had installed the warning signals mentioned earlier to tell us when someone was either moving out front or crossed behind the rink. One night, the alarm went off to signal someone went behind the rink at the far end. Bud and I went the other direction. I had a "Streamlight million candle power light" and battery pack slung over my shoulder. As we rounded the corner at the back, I lite the light. We couldn't believe what we saw. Four men were getting out of the car, all with shotguns and putting on masks. As the light hit them, they didn't know what was happening. They quickly jumped into the car and backed out in reverse all the way around the building and driveway including onto Rt 113 a distance before they turned around. We had reported the incident to police who later informed us that those of the same description had shortly after, held up Harivinick's Gas Station. We believe that Streamlight averted a holdup at the rink.
Then there was Sid. I threw Sid out because he just wouldn't keep his hands off girl's private areas in the rink. He had been warned many times. He had "roman" hands. He was also a fireman. He begged to be allowed back in. After some time, we did, but then he decided to use our pay phone to call the fire company about where my car was parked. I usually parked so as to prevent cars from circling and racing around the rink. He tried to apply a law that didn't apply regarding a fire lane. He didn't know I was right behind him while he was calling. He made such an issue, I threw him out again for a real long time.
I was amazed at parents who did not pick their kids up at closing. Our schedule was well posted outside and in ads. I sometimes waited for hours after closing until the last kid was picked up or found a way home. Kids would often tell us their parents were at a party, but they didn't know where or they didn't know the number. Even the police couldn't believe it.
One Saturday afternoon, after the rink was settled and in operation with a manager in charge, my wife and I decided to take off. As we were driving down Rt 113 toward Phoenixville, we were passing several girls with skates over their shoulders. I recognized them. We invited them back to the rink in our car and told them their parents expected them at the rink, not down town. I saw Lynn many years later at her wedding. She thanked me for what I did.
A story appeared in the newspaper one day about a skater who skated all the way back home from our rink on Rt 724 into I think Spring City. Someone called the police and reported him as a suspicious person. It was a cute store and I will scan and post it someday when I dig it out.
One day, before skating started, a storm arose. There were skating lessons going on inside. A police car was sitting on top of the firehouse hill. Lightning struck the corner of the rink where the electric comes in. The police radioed for the fire company and he went down to check the rink. Everything was OK and the students were more startled by the police and fireman than the loud bang.
One day, a large truck pulled into our parking lot to turn around. The truck hooked the electric wires and we lost power. The truck got away. We had to cancel the school party. It took the power company hours to repair the wires.
There are other stories, and as I get time will add them in here. You might get the idea that the rink is full of a lot of problems. When ever you deal with the public, the potention is definately there. We did have our share of problems, but I have also seen similar problems and stories from bowling alleys, bars, night clubs, and other public places. I would have never tolerated a floor guard throwing out a skater through a closed firedoor, breaking it as one of our competitors did. We also never had a fire-bombing that burned a section of a rink as did another rink. I am also well aware of events that went on in schools that are often not publicized. Our schools have bomb threats frequently. There are shootings, car jackings, and muggings in parking lots of malls and shopping centers. If you think that roller rinks are the only "trouble spots", open your eyes. 99.9% of all the people in the rink are great people and they have a good safe time.
The last 2 1/2 years of the rink operation were worse than all the previous years because of the pressure of the insurance situation. The publicity of no insurance by the press drove the parties away and some of the public. The bank was on us to close because the mortgage required insurance and we didn't have it. In 1984-85, an insurance crisis hit. The crisis hit many types of businesses, but the recreation business was probably hit the hardest. Rinks all across the country were having their insurance cancelled or not renewed. Insurance companies were paying out more than taking in. The problem stemmed from Lawyers filing suits for anything, regardless of fault. The insurance companies would settle, usually for a quick $10,000-$15,000 which was the average cost of fighting a lawsuit. This backfired on them. The insurance companies no longer could make money on rinks. In fact, it was a loosing proposition.
The Daily Local ran a story on the insurance crisis and after that story, more than half of our private skating parties cancelled because they were afraid of going to a place without liability insurance. That was a substancial lose of business. In addition, some of the public also became afraid to come. Private Parties were an introduction of skating to many and participants came back to public sessions. That no longer was happening. We were surviving, but the profits were much less, and our ability to reinvest in new equipment, which is something we had done from the beginning was hardly there.
We had another problem. Fidelity Bank, who held the mortgage on Kimberton Rollerama, wanted the rink to close immediately since there was no liability insurance. The terms of the mortgage required it. I was constantly bothered by the bank wanting us to close. I told them to find us insurance and we would take it. They were unable to find any but still told us to close. I was not about to close and loose everything because the bank wanted us to do so. We did try to sell the building over the next 2 1/2 years.
Now that the rink is closed and gone, my biggest regret is that there is no rink close by that I can skate at. I like skating and organ music. The nearest safe rink is almost an hour away. I am often asked whether I miss the rink. I really do. I miss the skaters, but not the problems.
One thing that would have made a better situation would have been to have an active partner (financial and working) to share the responsibility. If I still had the rink today, I would probably have metal detectors and more video cameras to assure safety. There would be a camera recording everyone leaving and entering and more cameras and recorders at various places around the rink. We did have one camera always on, on the main floor. We did have a very electronic and computerized rink, but it would have been necessary to expand on the idea much more. If I was starting a rink today, I would have a membership only operation and everyone required to have a photo membership card with a photo copy on file. Membership would be a minimal $1 but no one would ever go in without being registered.
There was a guy that was asked to leave and as we followed him to the door, he turned and swung at me. George caught his arm and in a continued motion flipped him into the payphone in the lobby.
There was a father that was called by his daughter because her boyfriend was bothering her. She never reported it to the rink personel. When the father arrived, he walked onto the floor and grabbed the boyfriend, causing a bit of a problem. Police arrested him for disorderly conduct, but he got off on a technicallity.
Vic Ricipono was building a rink in Blue Bell and had trouble getting approval from the township. The township sent a letter to all municipalities that had rinks in the area requesting information on trouble at rinks. The second East Pikeland police chief responded and labelled Kimberton as "not only a trouble spot, but a haven for drugs". His "attitude" came from our complaints about his kids and friends of his kids. Had we known about this report on a timely basis, we might have been able to put him in his place sooner than another group did. We never tollerated drugs and got them out as quickly as they were discovered. He forgot to mention his own son was caught at out rink and was thrown out. Drugs were never permitted and we went to all ends to keep them out.
I remembered the night when Chip called from Valley Forge to tell me their rink had been sold to SIMs. We had a celebration. My Dad told me I should hire Chip. I did and alot of their skaters came to our rink. Unfortunately, they were a tough crowd and we clashed with ideals. We had to re-educate our new skaters to our standards. Some refused to comply and didn't stay.
Rolland Printing had looked at our building early on, after it was placed for sale. Their plans for the future called for a building like ours, but they planned to do something several years later on.
In May of 1987, a waterbed company made an offer to buy the rink. I didn't want to hold the "paper" and was hesitant. Rolland found out and made an offer, meeting our asking price but asking us to lease it back for a year. The waterbed company made another offer, but Rolland asked what it would take to make a deal right now. The rink sold for $10,000 more than the asking price. The agreement was modified only 5 days prior to settlement and Rolland was to take full possession. That, folks, is why you didn't hear about the closing until the last five days. Settlement was Friday July 17, 1987.
An ad immediately went out to the "Phoenix" for the "Last Blast" to be held on Thursday July 16 and news releases went to all area papers. The Phoenix sent a reporter and photographer for the last Tuesday night adult session, July 14. The Phoenix ran a beautiful story.
The "Last Blast" drew an estimated 700 skaters for the final thursday night. There was live music with organist Ralph Brown, who also played the opening night on December 1 of 1972. Adult skaters on Tuesday expressed their dismay of the news to reporters. That article will be posted here shortly.
No Folks, I am not rich. The rink mortgage and the money I borrowed from my dad was paid off and the house was paid off. There was almost enough to purchase the computer store. Uncle Sam and the State got way more than I got.
A special thanks should go out to most all my employees who made Kimberton special and some names that first come to mind are George Dobson, John Hricik, Bud and Bea Zell, Bonny Murray, Denise Putz, Kathy Stanley, Margie Torres, Ralph Brown, and many others.