Snow, Schmow–Let’s Skate!

In the Northeast (and of course plenty of other areas of thecountry), we don’t have the luxury of warm, sunny days year-round.At least one third of the year is less than optimal for outdoorskating, if not unbearably cold. When the days shorten and theweather gets cold, wet, and frozen, skaters aren’t the only peoplewho panic. Shops have to start pondering if the weather and drop inskate time will affect business, and if they need to shift gears tosnowboards, BMX, in-line skating, or special promotions tosubsidize the loss in skate sales. Not every town has a cozy, indoorskatepark nearby. And with local ordinances against skating poppingup everywhere, the harsh weather, and the continual rise ofskateboarding’s popularity, it seems that indoor parks have neverbeen more in demand.

Most shops I spoke with had similar things to say abouthow business goes seasonally. The second half of January and theninto February is slow for everyone. Shops are usually still payingbills from holiday orders or sitting on leftover holiday inventory.Additionally, kids have all the new stuff they need from Christmas,or came in and spent their Christmas money and gift certificates inthe beginning of January. The following few months pick up but stillseem noticeably slower than summer and the vital back-to-schooland holiday seasons.

However, apparel and shoes (in particular) still moveduring the slow times. I expected to hear about an influx of moremainstream, non-skate customers hitting the shops for both, due toskating’s continuing state of “coolness,” but the mall and chainstores (Pac Sun was mentioned the most) seem to be interfering abit.

So what are all the shops doing? Surely no one wants to sitback and watch winter sales just plummet. My initial assumptionwas that shops could easily turn to snowboards, in-line, BMX, orRazor scooters to keep that cash flowing in. However, it seems thatmany shops are skate-only by choice and doing just fine. Not asingle shop I spoke with sells in-line or scooters, and all were proudto admit it. According to Matt Roman at Coliseum in Boston, andJustin Naidoo of Skaters Alliance in Princeton, New Jersey, bothshops are 99.9-percent skate, and in the process of getting rid ofsnowboards entirely.

Shops that have been around for a long time, like WaterBrothers in Newport, Rhode Island and Eastern Boarder in Nashua,New Hampshire, remember skateboarding’s “grimmer” years–whenrunning a skate-only store was nearly impossible any time ofthe year. Sid Abbruzzi proudly keeps Water Brothers almost strictlyskate and surf, with a little snow in the mix, but stressed, “Wealways try our best to keep the new stuff in the store so kids arepsyched to see what they see in the magazines. Our team skates allover through the winter, and that makes a big difference. Littleguerrilla tactics like ramps in parking lots, in our parking lot, andunderground garages, et cetera (do, too). The cold doesn’t botheranyone, it’s the snow, which has been light over the last two years.We have video nights at local bars and stuff. We are in the processof helping Newport improve their public skatepark. We flow somekids product, and Donny Barley is around a lot, so it all helps.”

“We were a 100-percent skateboard shop in the beginning,but to stay afloat with competition from mall stores and during theslim years, BMX and snow was a given to supplement skate sales,”said Chris Rice of Eastern Boarder. Rice also mentioned this year’smild winter (so far) being an important factor in keeping skate salesup.

What about those shops that don’t want to succumb to the”evils” of BMX, surf, or snow? How do they fare? Justin at Skater’sAlliance offered the following: “We subleased part of our store outto someone else, downsized a bit, and that pays for the rent and thebills–this way the sales cover the payroll.”

Aaron Polansky at Sky High in Milwaukee, Wisconsin cutsthe payroll in the winter and basically runs his shop alone. And likemany other stores, he sets a projector up and hosts video nights togive the kids something to do.

Boston’s Coliseum has a park of their own in the works.”We are building a park right now,” said Roman. “Other than that,there aren’t a lot of parks around. We needed a place to skate, andsince the warehouses are so expensive, we needed to make it so thatthe public, not just our riders, could come. It’ll help the shop a lot.We’re also working with Element on the Coliseum/PJ Ladd video,which is our big promotion right now.”

And what about the existing parks? How well do they do inthe winter? And how much do they affect the shops nearby? Is theshop/park relationship working to its fullest potential?

Skater Island Skatepark in Newport, Rhode Island wasmentioned by Water Brothers’ Abbruzzi as a definite contributor inkeeping business steady in the winter. Kristen Hall of Skater Islandexplained the park as being busier in the winter, but having skatecamps in the summer draws a lot of kids in even when the weatheris nice outside: “During the week in the winter, it’s a little slowerbecause the kids are at school. But weekends here are just packed.”

East Coast Terminal is an indoor park and fully stockedshop in Johnson City, New York. Scott Patrillo offered some insightinto this seemingly rarer park/shop business. “In the park we get alot of little kids in the summer and the more hardcore skaters in thewinter. Spring and back-to-school is good and then (the shop stays)steady until the holidays. Shoes are the biggest part of our retail. Wesell a little BMX–just parts, really, in case something breaks and theriders need them during a session. But when the park is down, theshop is up, and vice versa–so we are usually doing fine. There is anew park going up a few blocks away, but the public parks usuallyaren’t that good.”

Aaron at Sky High said the indoor park about five milesaway provides a huge increase in winter sales. All the parks aroundAlliance in New Jersey are at least an hour away, so they aren’tgenerating a lot of business for the shop. “With the addition of parksand skate programs in the area (four or five combined), sales havestayed steady–not as good as summer–but steady,” said EasternBoarder’s Rice. “The parks have definitely helped a lot. There is anoutdoor park in town, and the kids are shoveling it–it’s completelydry even though we had that snow last week. Kids are also still goingto Boston to skate.”

Maya Messoriano of Uprise Skateboard Shop in Chicago,Illinois says, “There are only indoor parks in the suburbs, and theyare all private right now. I think the lack of parks hurts us. It(skating) isn’t accessible for kids with no cars or who can’t get ridesfrom their parents. In the summer, with the outdoor parks, a lot ofyounger kids are starting to skate. So an indoor park nearby wouldhelp a lot.”

To many shops, this “slow” time of year isn’t an economiccurse or drought, but a welcomed break to be productive in. EastCoast Terminal takes advantage of the lull to do inventory and workon improving the park. Coliseum uses the extra time to plan fortrade shows and making shop videos. Uprise is thankful for the twoslow months because it gives them a chance to do other things, likesponsoring and promoting a skate-rock band, and spending timeplanning for the busy seasons ahead.

As has been the case for the last few years, it still appearsthat a skateboarding-only (or close to skate-only) shop is a living,breathing entity–capable of being self-sufficient. Of course, nearbyparks make the situation a lot sweeter for shop owners, and theoccasional sale or payroll cut may be in order, but most skate-onlyshops seemed confident and relatively worry-free at the moment.And most are sure that they will never need to turn to in-line skatesin case of an emergency. Let?s just hope it stays that way.