Snow, Schmow–Let’s Skate!

In the Northeast (and of course plenty of other areas of the country), we don’t have the luxury of warm, sunny days year-round. At least one third of the year is less than optimal for outdoor skating, if not unbearably cold. When the days shorten and the weather gets cold, wet, and frozen, skaters aren’t the only people who panic. Shops have to start pondering if the weather and drop in skate time will affect business, and if they need to shift gears to snowboards, BMX, in-line skating, or special promotions to subsidize the loss in skate sales. Not every town has a cozy, indoor skatepark nearby. And with local ordinances against skating popping up everywhere, the harsh weather, and the continual rise of skateboarding’s popularity, it seems that indoor parks have never been more in demand.

Most shops I spoke with had similar things to say about how business goes seasonally. The second half of January and then into February is slow for everyone. Shops are usually still paying bills 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 in the beginning of January. The following few months pick up but still seem noticeably slower than summer and the vital back-to-school and holiday seasons.

However, apparel and shoes (in particular) still move during the slow times. I expected to hear about an influx of more mainstream, non-skate customers hitting the shops for both, due to skating’s continuing state of “coolness,” but the mall and chain stores (Pac Sun was mentioned the most) seem to be interfering a bit.

So what are all the shops doing? Surely no one wants to sit back and watch winter sales just plummet. My initial assumption was that shops could easily turn to snowboards, in-line, BMX, or Razor scooters to keep that cash flowing in. However, it seems that many shops are skate-only by choice and doing just fine. Not a single shop I spoke with sells in-line or scooters, and all were proud to admit it. According to Matt Roman at Coliseum in Boston, and Justin Naidoo of Skaters Alliance in Princeton, New Jersey, both shops are 99.9-percent skate, and in the process of getting rid of snowboards entirely.

Shops that have been around for a long time, like Water Brothers in Newport, Rhode Island and Eastern Boarder in Nashua, New Hampshire, remember skateboarding’s “grimmer” years–when running a skate-only store was nearly impossible any time of the year. Sid Abbruzzi proudly keeps Water Brothers almost strictly skate and surf, with a little snow in the mix, but stressed, “We always try our best to keep the new stuff in the store so kids are psyched to see what they see in the magazines. Our team skates all over through the winter, and that makes a big difference. Little guerrilla tactics like ramps in parking lots, in our parking lot, and underground garages, et cetera (do, too). The cold doesn’t bother anyone, 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 process of helping Newport improve their public skatepark. We flow some kids 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 the slim years, BMX and snow was a given to supplement skate sales,” said Chris Rice of Eastern Boarder. Rice also mentioned this year’s mild winter (so far) being an important factor in keeping skate sales up.

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’s Alliance offered the following: “We subleased part of our store out to someone else, downsized a bit, and that pays for the rent and the bills–this way the sales cover the payroll.”

Aaron Polansky at Sky High in Milwaukee, Wisconsin cuts the payrolll in the winter and basically runs his shop alone. And like many other stores, he sets a projector up and hosts video nights to give 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, and since the warehouses are so expensive, we needed to make it so that the 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 in the winter? And how much do they affect the shops nearby? Is the shop/park relationship working to its fullest potential?

Skater Island Skatepark in Newport, Rhode Island was mentioned by Water Brothers’ Abbruzzi as a definite contributor in keeping business steady in the winter. Kristen Hall of Skater Island explained the park as being busier in the winter, but having skate camps in the summer draws a lot of kids in even when the weather is nice outside: “During the week in the winter, it’s a little slower because the kids are at school. But weekends here are just packed.”

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

Aaron at Sky High said the indoor park about five miles away provides a huge increase in winter sales. All the parks around Alliance in New Jersey are at least an hour away, so they aren’t generating a lot of business for the shop. “With the addition of parks and skate programs in the area (four or five combined), sales have stayed steady–not as good as summer–but steady,” said Eastern Boarder’s Rice. “The parks have definitely helped a lot. There is an outdoor park in town, and the kids are shoveling it–it’s completely dry even though we had that snow last week. Kids are also still going to Boston to skate.”

Maya Messoriano of Uprise Skateboard Shop in Chicago, Illinois says, “There are only indoor parks in the suburbs, and they are 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 rides from their parents. In the summer, with the outdoor parks, a lot of younger kids are starting to skate. So an indoor park nearby would help a lot.”

To many shops, this “slow” time of year isn’t an economic curse or drought, but a welcomed break to be productive in. East Coast Terminal takes advantage of the lull to do inventory and work on improving the park. Coliseum uses the extra time to plan for trade shows and making shop videos. Uprise is thankful for the two slow months because it gives them a chance to do other things, like sponsoring and promoting a skate-rock band, and spending time planning for the busy seasons ahead.

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