Rockin' Rollers Event Arena, a decades-old venue in Santa Fe that has stood empty during the pandemic until just a few weeks ago, might not survive after all.
The long-term closure that began March 2019 pushed Rockin' Rollers and its owners, Bill and Robbyn Spencer, to the brink of closing the doors permanently. Now, they are trying to raise $10,000 on GoFundMe to cover just a piece of the back rent.
On top of fundraising and applying for pandemic-relief money, the Spencers have finally—though tentatively—opened with "bubble parties" that allow small groups to rent the space. They have also subleased several of the open rooms to other small businesses, previously used by musicians for rehearsals and even ping pong players.
The building at 2915 Agua Fria St. was previously owned by the late Joseph Becker and is now overseen by his estate, which recently hired management firm, Real Property Management Albuquerque.
"We haven't been able to negotiate with the new property managers to come up with a plan to go forward and we have been keeping the building open and taking over a lot of the overhead and utility bills to just keep rolling," Robbyn says.
The total amount owed is somewhere around the cost of a new car, according to Bill, although he wouldn't specify exactly how much.
Brett Moses, customer service director at the firm, tells SFR that property managers are "currently reviewing tenant leases and balances to develop a plan to move forward" with Rockin' Rollers and that discussions with all of their new tenants are still in the "early stages."
Before it was a skate rink, the building was used as a church. (The last remnant of the church remains along one wall: a massive mural of Moses parting the Red Sea. Bill covered Moses with an alien sign.) One of the newest leasees is Emilia Gold and her business Haven Skate and Snow, an expansion of her Albuquerque store Haven Skate Shop, which now occupies two small rooms at the front of the building with skate and snowboard gear and clothing for sale.
On a frigid Saturday night this month, two men in beanies set up a rail for the expected skateboarders. It's just the fourth "skate night" Gold and the Spencers have hosted. Current public health orders only allow 10 people at a time. But it's another way the two businesses generate income.
Gold initially planned to open a mobile store. She bought a trailer before the pandemic, but before she could buy a truck, public health orders hit, halting her idea until she worked out a deal with the Spencers.
"This space opened up right when I called [the Spencers] back and I was finally ready to do it," Gold says.
The cap on participants has been a major hindrance because people assume there won't be any room and they'll be turned away at the door, according to Gold. Yet, so far that hasn't held true. She says there's plenty of room on skate nights for youth to come—masked, of course.
The long history of Rockin' Rollers has made it easy to tell potential customers the location of her new shop, but with the store only open one day a week (Saturdays), the news remains widely unknown in Santa Fe, even in the skating community.
"Opening a store in a pandemic doesn't sound like it makes any sense, but also we have so much product that we don't have the normal avenues to sell the stuff 'cause the ski swaps didn't happen," Gold says. "We're overloaded with stuff. So how do you sell it? Hopefully this brings us another audience but people haven't really found out that we're here yet."
A little bit after 6 pm, a boy shows up with his father, who pays his admission and hugs him around the helmet and skateboard. The young skater heads for the rink and its lights, nostalgic alien decor and emptiness. He has the whole place to himself.
Bill Spencer has spent recent months maintaining the aging building: painting, patching holes and plumbing repairs. He's optimistic about working out a deal to pay off the back rent with the property managers and he's looking forward to when parents can eat pizza together from the snack bar while their kids skate.
But he says even when Santa Fe businesses can have up to 75 people, it will still be difficult to make ends meet. It'll take a community to keep Rockin' Rollers open.
"What's good for the goose is good for the gander," Bill tells SFR. "We have to take care of each other and spread the word and let people know."