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BANGOR, Maine — Maine schools are closed for vacation this week, and Great Skates was jumping Wednesday afternoon. The parking lot was filled. Inside, dozens of children and a fair number of adults were skating away or taking a break in the snack bar.
But the end of an era is coming for area roller skating enthusiasts. After nearly 20 years of family fun, field trips, birthday parties — even a wedding — the Sylvan Road rink and laser tag arena is going to close in June of next year, according to its owner.
Banners saying “One Last Great Skate” went up Wednesday morning.
“We’re giving people at least a year to have their one last great skate,” owner Tom Ellis said. “We didn’t want this to be abrupt to give everyone the closure, if you will, to have their one last great time here, because a lot of friendships were started here.”
The reason for the closure is economic.
“Well, the building is 20 years old and the property needs a lot of upgrades,” he said, citing the need to overhaul the parking lot, the exterior, the interior, the laser tag arena, the sound system and lighting, among other things.
“And the roller skating industry is in a decline and has been for over 10 years,” Ellis said.
A 2011 New York Times article stated that about 1,200 to 1,500 rinks were still operating in the U.S. and Canada at the time, two-thirds the number from 20 years before.
Ellis attributed the decline, in large part, to the Internet and Facebook and other forms of social media.
“There’s a lot for kids to do today, and the rink — it’s never been a big money maker, by any means,” Ellis, a commercial developer with properties from Fort Fairfield to Old Orchard Beach, said.
Ellis, who grew up in Gardiner, said the decision to close the rink was a tough one to make. Owning a roller rink had been his dream since he began skating as a teenager in the 1970s and met a rink owner from Farmingdale named Bill Faulkingham Sr., to whom his own rink is dedicated.
“He was probably, outside my family, the nicest man I’ve ever met. He owned seven rinks and when he first started in the roller skating business, he used to pick up the neighborhood kids and take them to the local rink,” Ellis said. “He built his business up from there. He built really nice rinks compared to the national average, and I worked for him in high school in a rink in Augusta.
General Manager Tiffani Lindsey, who grew up skating with Ellis’s three children, has agreed to stay on until the rink closes.
Lindsey said she has some big events in store. One of them will be a 20th birthday bash for the rink in early October and another will be the facility’s final skating session. She invites current skaters and alumni to share photos of their favorite memories of Great Skates.
Ellis said he has no specific plans for the rink property.
“I’m a commercial developer, so I’ll figure something out,” he said. “It will be repurposed into something someday.”