Rock Roll-O-Rena Skating Rink
Fun-Filled Blast from the Past
In 1964, Harold Long concluded there were few places in Arnold that his four children could visit for fun and avoid trouble when they were not at school – not only his kids, but kids from other local families, too.
Although he was not a skater Long decided to build an indoor roller skating rink and open it to the public for an admission fee.
With four partners, Long purchased about an acre of land along Jeffco Boulevard. He hired an architect and construction team. His vision began to take shape when the 8,700 square-foot skating surface of polished American maple was installed like a giant oval.
Long was correct that there were few places in Arnold back then where kids and families could enjoy indoor recreation in both summer and winter. There was a movie theatre and a bowling alley within close driving distance, but not much else for people who wanted something new for having fun with friends and family.
On February 27, 1965, the Rock Roll-O-Rena opened to a mighty fanfare of newspaper publicity and public enthusiasm. The place was packed with people old and young. Long and his wife Maxine had promoted the grand opening in advance by notifying churches, schools, and local businesses, and by christening their skating rink with a distinctive name.
JoDonna Neifert was nine years old when the doors opened. “It was named for its location in Rock Township, and ‘Roll-O-Rena’ was used rather than ‘arena’ so the name would sound different from anything else,” she says. As a teenager, JoDonna started working in the snack bar, and has worked in the Rock Roll-O-Rena ever since.
Romance on Skates
With her husband Glen Neifert, JoDonna co-owns and co-manages the Rock Roll-O-Rena today. Long is her maiden name. Her father Harold managed the business for more than 30 years, often with help from his original partners Elmer and Sandra Bullerdick and Herbert and Gertrude Crow. JoDonna’s brother Paul Long and his wife Tammy also worked there for years.
It is a venue where visitors are transported to a different time, perhaps to childhood or their teen years, or to the place where they spent their first date or experienced their first kiss. With its 1960s-style yellow and orange colors and snack bar booths, it’s a retro setting that seemingly never changes as people, some holding hands, skate around the gleaming maple floor while music plays. Rock Roll-O-Rena endures the test of time.
“So many people visit and tell me they remember skating here on a first date or coming here to meet someone – a lot of them met their husbands or wives as teenagers and later married each other, and now their kids come here,” JoDonna says, smiling.
JoDonna and her husband Glen were one of those teen couples. Says Glen, age 63, “I came here in 1973 to roller skate for the first time, and it turned out I could skate pretty well. I saw JoDonna and decided to stick around for a while to talk with her.”
“We met for the first time by the pinball machine,” Glen recalls, “and one thing led to another.”
After Glen visited the roller skating rink several times, JoDonna’s father offered Glen a part-time job. “That was a big change maker,” Glen says.
That year Rock Roll-O-Rena expanded its indoor space by one third, not including the maple skating floor. Glen helped out with the improvements.
When he and JoDonna started dating, they sometimes also watched movies at a long-gone Jefferson County drive-in theatre. In 1975 Glen and JoDonna got married. From the start they made a great team for the small business. For one thing, they both love the skating rink, and they love being around people from all walks of life who visit there.
“If you don’t like people, you shouldn’t be in a public business like this,” says Glen, adding, “We are ‘people people.’ And we love the kids who skate here.”
The Neiferts work together very well. You might say they are a true Mom and Pop operation. Since their marriage, they both have handled the financial books and record keeping, and they manage Rock Roll-O-Rena advertising and promotions, such as for fundraisers and their “Kids Skate Free” program among others, including a speed skating lesson program.
When JoDonna and Glen got married, Harold Long was the boss and owner. By then he had bought out his original partners. JoDonna and Glen shared Long’s business values and recreational mission that, then as now, included preserving a safe environment to enjoy skating fun:
- Skating is supervised at all times by “skating guards” (employees).
- Skating speeds must be reasonable; passing other skaters must be done carefully.
- No skater should move recklessly or jeopardize others’ safety.
- No skater is allowed to carry children on skates anywhere in the building.
- Alcoholic beverages, illegal substances or anyone under the influence are prohibited, and no smoking is allowed in the building.
Cater to the Skater
Rock Roll-O-Rena is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, and also for private parties. In fall, winter, and spring it is open seven days a week with Tuesdays and Wednesdays reserved for private skating groups, such as from churches, schools, and scout troops. Parents often drop off their children there to skate and then pick up the kids after an hour or two, or stay to skate with them. On Saturday nights the crowd often includes high school kids “and every Saturday night is a different experience,” JoDonna says.
The polished maple skating floor can accommodate up to 700 people; the entire building can handle up to 1,000. About 650 pairs of roller skates in different sizes are available to rent for $2 each. New pairs of skates can be purchased.
Harold Long passed away in 2002 and his wife Maxine in 2005. Times have changed, yet much about Rock Roll-O-Rena remains the same. As the owners today, Glen and JoDonna say they have managed to keep Rock Roll-O-Rena in business for so many years because “we cater to the skater.”
“We listen to our customers and respect their opinions,” says Glen. “We have done that since the beginning,” adds JoDonna. “Many of our customers have become good friends.” These days, about 500 people a week go there to roller skate.
“The bottom line is that you’ve got to stay focused on the customer and ‘work your business’ to keep it going,” Glen asserts. The Neiferts remember the hard times encountered during the recession of 2007-2009, when they always managed to provide paychecks for their part-time employees, but sometimes did not pay themselves.
“You’ve got to keep your credit up,” JoDonna says.
The potential liability of running a roller skating rink is enormous, and expenses keep increasing. The Neiferts’ biggest expenses for the business are liability insurance, utilities (air conditioning and heating their 14,500 square foot building), and fees they pay to music licensing organizations so the Rock Roll-O-Rena sound system can play popular music for skaters.
“We’ve played every kind of music you can think of,” says Glen, who programs the sound system. “The music we play during any year always reflects the tastes of American consumers. During the disco years of the 1970s skaters were moving to all the disco sounds. We’ve played rock, country, pop, jazz, classical, and hip-hop through our loudspeakers. You’ve got to talk to your customers to find out what kinds of music they like when they’re skating. No matter what music it is, it’s got to have a beat.”
Will the dwindling number of roller skating rinks in America go the way of the circus?
“That’s a good question,” Glen says. “The way I see it, roller skating rink owners that don’t constantly ‘work their business’ will eventually close their doors. Every rink owner has got to like people of all ages, including kids, and they’ve got to love the business they are in.”
“The Rock Roll-O-Rena has a tradition of being a family-oriented place where people can come to skate, have fun, and be safe. As long as it does, we’ll be here.”
Story by Jeff Dunlap