Building a Business on All-Night Skating

26 Jan 2011, Posted by admin in Packages, No Comments.

Building a Business on All-Night Skating

Story by Desire’ Bennett

It’s 10 p.m. and Bob Leffler is busy sawing plywood.

He’s repairing an eight-stair ramp in the street section at Ollie’s Skatepark in Florence, Ky., so that the skaters can use it again. Tonight the park’s all-night session has attracted a little over two-dozen skaters. Leffler notes that if the sun hadn’t been shining all day, there may have been more.

“Sometimes the weather dictates how the business goes,” he said.

Most people don’t like rainy days, but Leffler loves them. “I like rain on the weekends — I do,” he said. “Whenever it rains, business is good.” Leffler has taken his passion for skateboarding and turned it into a 50,000-square-foot business — a concrete paradise for skaters and bike riders alike.

“The original owner had [Ollie’s] open for a about a year and a half and for whatever reason — he walked away,” he said. When the skatepark closed, Leffler, who used to bring his sons to Ollie’s, contacted the building’s owners. “I just thought it was such a good park and I wanted to at least see what it would take to reopen it.”

Slideshow by Lauren Justice and Eamon Queeney for NMB

Six years later, Ollie’s, which only closes on Christmas and Thanksgiving, hosts one of the only all-night skate sessions in the Midwest and attracts skaters from throughout the region. “We draw from a 2.5 hour radius — Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, Louisville, Lexington and of course Cincinnati — we’re a pretty good spot,” Leffler said. “Sometimes it seems like we have more people here from a few hours away than we do locals.”

Tom Reams, who drives an hour at least twice a month to take his sons to Ollie’s, appreciates that a place like this exists. “Skateboarding is not a crime, but it’s illegal in a lot of places,” he said. “If these kids are in here skating or doing the bowls, it’s keeping them off the streets and out of trouble.”

“We try to make it parent friendly as much as we can, but it’s a skatepark. It’s not a roller-skating rink,” Leffler said. “We want kids to feel free to just do their own thing and not feel like someone’s got their finger on them, because they won’t come back.”

Skateboarder Donovan Schultz, who has been to Ollie’s three times in the past month, likes the freedom that skating at Ollie’s affords him. “It gets you pretty tired when you just non-stop ride, but sometimes I’ll sit down and get drinks and sit on the couch and just watch TV. Once I fell asleep for three hours.”

“It’s kind of a fine line,” Leffler said. “We want parents to feel like their kids are safe when they drop them off, but I don’t want it to seem like we’re always looking over their back [and] we don’t want [the kids] to feel like we’re gonna tell mommy and daddy.”

Parent Larry Carrier likes that there’s also a place for parents to hang out at Ollie’s if they choose to stay. “I think it’s great that they have these observation decks for the parents so we can stay and keep an eye on the kids,” he said. But, he added, he’s glad the all-night skate is only offered two nights a week. “We’ll be back, but [my son] would come every night if you’d let him.”

And so would Alfonso Medina, who visits Ollie’s at least twice a month. “I just love this park. Everything is just so fun to skate,” he said. “[But] If it’s nice out, of course you might want to go to an outdoor park.”

Bike riders are often excluded from indoor skateparks because conflicts can arise between them and skateboarders. According to Reams, Ollie’s has managed to stay exempt from this problem. “We’ve been coming here for a couple of years and I’ve never seen a fight,” he said. “A bicycler will compliment a skateboarder and vice-versa. It’s a neat deal. They get along. They have a lot of fun.”

And when you’ve got a big “roll in,” a “horseshoe bowl,” a 16-foot “mini” and a vertical ramp that stands 13 feet tall, there’s plenty of fun to be had. “We had Tony Hawk here a couple of years ago and he rode that big vert ramp like it was a little mini ramp,” Leffler said. “It was amazing.”

“By far it’s one of the best skateparks I’ve been to [and] I’ve seen skateparks all over the country,” Ray Jones said. Jones, a student at NKU studying construction management, has been skateboarding for the past 11 years. He credits Ollie’s with helping break the “disaffected skateboarder” stereotype. “[But places like] this has a lot to do with it—helping to break the stereotype of how it used to be—a bunch of punk kids causing trouble.”

“It’s fun to get out here and watch these kids — not just [my son] — all of them,” Reams said. “They’re very good athletes. They’re staying in shape. It’s a good sport and more than anything else, it’s fun. Bottom line — it is a lot of fun.”

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