In Rotterdam, a Rollarama renaissance (with video and photo gallery)

By the time the Rollarama opens, the line is already out the door.
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By the time the Rollarama opens, the line is already out the door.

It’s a Friday night and a broad cross-section of youth are geared up for a night on wheels. Inside, the deejay cranks up a hip-hop beat as the colored lights overhead bounce off the growing number of roller skaters circling the rink.

Carol Glover of Schenectady sits on a bench tightening granddaughter Shatiyana Ham’s laces. She flashes a smile when the sprightly 8-year-old abruptly bolts into the counterclockwise flow of skaters whizzing by.

The scene takes Glover back to the days when her big sister would bring her to the rink and she’d skate to the sound of disco booming through the building. Back then, there were good friends, great music and unforgettable memories.

“And nothing has really changed,” she said, looking out at her grandchildren.

Of course, the style of music is a little different and the rink itself has undergone some extensive upgrades. Owners Scott and Sue Newberry have spent the past three years giving Rollarama a facelift to bring the family business into the 21st century.

In 2008, the couple received a $2,500 matching facade grant from the Rotterdam Industrial Development Agency to improve the exterior of the building. The funding served as a launching point for them to rip down an unsightly chain link fence Scott’s father planted into the blacktop in front of the building.

Combined with the drab white exterior, Newberry said the fence made the building look anything but enticing. He said the uninviting appearance was enough that some didn’t even realize the 22,000-square-foot building housed one of the Capital Region’s few remaining roller skating rinks.

“It kind of looked like an old warehouse,” he said.

Little had been done to update the rink since 1987. The rink’s interior had the same dull white color along with three running stripes that seemed almost as dated as the yellow Plymold tables by the concession stand.

The Newberrys decided it was time for an overhaul. The exterior was painted a vibrant purple with swaths of bright yellow and green.

The interior was given a similar color scheme and outfitted with flat-screen televisions, giving it a modern atmosphere. Newberry also put in new carpets and demolished a concrete block wall that separated the rink from the concessions, which helped open up more space in the building.

He also added a gift shop and started replacing the dated tables with cafe-style seating. The Newberrys hosted a grand-reopening in September, even though the rink technically never closed during the renovations.

So far, the improvements appear to be paying off. In addition to the normal weekend business, Rollarama last week hosted 18 birthday parties during 10 hours of business over two days. The business is open every day but Monday.

“We’re working a whole lot harder at it now and it’s starting to pay off for us,” he said. “More people are coming out than last year at this time.”

The rink was founded in 1957 by Frank Newberry and Jim Denegris. Rollarama was a popular destination on Hamburg Street during 1970s, when roller skating was in its heyday.

“Those days, all you had to do was open the doors and they’d come in,” he said.

Newberry acknowledges they don’t pack the place like they used to three decades ago. But today there’s a steady stream of youth that seem to center their social lives at the rink.

Mariah Ortiz said she often meets up with friends at the rink on the weekends because it’s a place where they can all hang out together. The 15-year-old Mohonasen student said Rollarama also gives her a chance to meet up with friends from outside the town.

“Especially if they don’t go to your school,” she said.

Classmate Alexis Reamer agreed. The 14-year-old said meeting up at Rollarama is a Friday-night tradition for her friends.

“We’re here every Friday night,” she said.

Glover said she started bringing her grandchildren to the rink on a whim several months ago. They didn’t even know how to skate when she first turned them loose on Rollarama’s polished maple floor.

Now, they beg her to bring them each weekend. Glover even uses a trip to the rink as incentive for them to do well in school and finish their chores at home.

“A lot of parents should get their children into it,” she said. “It does them a lot of good.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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