Beantown’s Wonderful Horrible Skate Shops

Boston, Massachusetts will have a page in the book of skateboard history.

Does it start with the Cambridge bowl? Would New England legend Sid “The Package” Abruzzi be an appropriate prologue? Where do names like Jahmal Williams, Panama Dan, and Robbie Gangemi fit in?

Perhaps Boston’s first entry into the record books will be dated the year 2002. It’s the year a pair of shops named Coliseum put out a shop video that dumbfounded the industry by outselling almost every major company video in contention. It’s the year that Coliseum shop riders like Jereme Rogers, Ryan Gallant, and PJ Ladd went from virtual no-names to ams for skateboarding’s most elite teams. With an obvious eye for talent and the heart of New England’s skateboarding populace, Coliseum might be leading the first coming of Beantown.

It all started way back in 1996 when Matt Roman and Arty Vagianos—friends, skaters, and inexperienced businessmen—decided to open the first Coliseum skate shop in Melrose, Massachusetts in a whopping 700-square-foot space. “There were no real skate shops,” Roman says, “Most areas have a lack of real skate shops. People can’t get it together, so the big corporate guys take all the business.” Knowing the local scene, they saw what it was lacking, and Coliseum was born.

As anyone who’s ever opened a skate shop knows, it’s a huge risk and a lot of hard work, but Roman is able to put it into perspective: “Nothing to lose, nothing to gain. Fun and enjoyment come in many forms, but few are as great as skateboarding.”

Commonly referred to as a ‘core shop, they wanted nothing to do with corporate sporting-goods chains and shops that sandwich skate decks between Rollerblades and scooters. “Please don’t ask for anything non-skateboard or you’re going to get kicked out,” says Roman. “It’s 100-percent raw, 100-percent skate.”

And that first shop did so well, the second Coliseum was opened in downtown Boston in 1999 with only 600 square feet to manage.

When questioned on the shops’ financial prowess, Roman seems to shy away from business-speak and would rather respond comically: “Is this the IRS? This is skateboarding! Who pays attention to that.”

Known loosely by locals as “the people’s skate shop,” Coliseum has the same business ups and downs as anyone else, but Roman’s more concerned about supporting the right companies than making a buck. “We sell skateboard goods, and only great ones at that,” he says. “None of this Kreper, Termite, or blank shit that the kooks are jamming down people’s throats. You want to skate, spend the fucking money and support a company.” This is the mentality that has magnetized ‘core skaters to Coliseum since day one and has now propelled it to cult fame nationwide.

“Our customers want something you can only get at Coliseum or the few remaining real skate shops,” Roman explains. “It’s not a purchase, it’s a fucking experience.”

These days the Coliseum clientele is as diverse as ever. Their customers are everyone from lifetime skaters to jocks and beginners. “That poseur or kook with a little guidance could really get his shred on,” Roman kids. “I love the crazy mix of shredders. You should see our team show up to a spot, it’s all of the above.”

And some team it is.

They’ve got Southie, a hard-handed Irishman clad in a golf hat who drops as many beatdowns as he does hammers; Alexis Sablone, one of the best up-and-coming females in the game; Ryan Gallant, a red-hot Expedition One and DC am with amazing style; Baby Schizo, a mixture of Chad Muska and Sean Sheffey with more wild tales and myths surrounding him than the Loch Ness; Jereme Rogers, a youngster sought after by the likes of Girl and DVS; and most importantly PJ Ladd, the most talked about skater this year due to his mind-blowing skating that finally found the right vessel for exposure.

When this colorful crew got together and put out the precariously titled video PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life, the ball really got rollinng.

But first they released a teaser.

The promo premiered at the 2002 Long Beach ASR, where Coliseum didn’t have a booth—they just barged other companies’ and put their vid on, and then circulated within the industry’s underground and created a wild buzz among those in the know. And when it was reported that PJ’s upcoming video part had already landed him a spot on the coveted Flip roster, anxiety reached a fevered pitch.

The video dropped in May 2002 and delivered. Amazing footage amid jocular antics—it was the right video at the right time. “We set out to make a video that was a little less torturesome than others released recently,” Roman mentions. “More matter and less art!”

Coliseum set new standards by which shop videos will be forever based. On the subject of securing distribution, Roman again jokes, “Who wouldn’t want to distribute the video and make a fucking fortune? That’s the point isn’t it?”

That’s the Coliseum way.

PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life Statistics

Title: Matt Roman came up with the title by a combination of things. The title of Blind’s classic Tim And Henry’s Pack Of Lies had a hand in it as did a documentary on ground-breaking filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl called The Wonderful, Horrible Life Of Leni Riefenstahl, due to her amazing cinematography that was funded and intended to glorify the Nazis, although Riefenstahl was not a Nazi herself. Roman thought the name applied well to PJ, who has an amazing gift for skateboarding, yet his life is consumed by it. He’s known to skate from 7:00 a.m. until 2:00 a.m. on a regular basis. “Sometimes PJ wishes he could just not think about skating all the time,” Roman explains. “When he has a bad day skating, it’s just horrible.”

Filming Time: Approximately two years. “From the point where we thought, ‘Okay, let’s do another video’ until it actually came out was a couple years.”

Expenses: Travel, two video cameras, a computer, lights, and a generator. “A lot of travel. Our camera got stolen once, so we had to buy a whole new setup, so it actually cost us some money.”

Distribution: Originally Giant was supposed to distribute, but upon PJ Ladd’s quitting Element to ride for Flip, Giant backed out. Coliseum went on to secure distributors by themselves via phone calls and mailing out promos. PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life is now distributed around the world by AWH, South Shore, Eastern, Blue Collar, and Overboard.

Units Sold As Of August, 2002: 200,000 VHS, with the DVD to be released in November 2002. How’s your shop video doing?

Visit Coliseum’s Web site at