Neville Roller Drome owner happy to watch the world wheel on by
Jim Park remembers exactly where he was each time the Steelers won a Super Bowl: He was at the Neville Roller Drome, making dizzying circles under the starburst lights.
Nothing, not even a black-and-gold football dynasty, could lure him way from the rink.
“My parents met skating,” he said, noting that his 83-year-old mother, Donna Park, still takes a few laps on occasion. “We came here as a family every Sunday. This was life.”
Life continues to go round-and-round for the West View resident.
In 2011, Park and his wife, Sophie, bought the Neville Roller Drome, which has been in continuous operation since 1948. The Neville Island landmark was built and run by brothers Vic, Tony and Dan Deramo until the Parks took over. It is one of only two roller rinks left in Allegheny County.
Since then, the couple has made numerous upgrades to the facility, from replacing the oil-fueled furnace and repairing the roof to increasing the size of the cafe and adjacent party room. Soon, they’ll bring the disco-era décor into the 21st century and add LED lighting.
The original floating floor is 14,265 square feet of maple. The Parks recently had it stripped, sanded and coated with Roll-on, a sealer that gives rinks that distinctive, yet undefinable, smell.
Park, 55, prides himself on knowing every bump and dip in the floor, which expands and contracts with the changing weather. He says the solitary, two-hour task of dusting and scrubbing the surface is cathartic and allows him to reconnect with his past.
He first laced up a pair of skates when he was 3 years old and he cried the whole time. By the age of 6, he had embraced the eight-wheeled mode of locomotion and zoomed around the drome. Although he pursued different career paths in management and information technology, he never abandoned his first love. His children, Jonathan and Marie, are just as devoted.
Many people, young and old, are discovering the sport.
“We really turned the corner on the business in year four,” Park said. “We are so busy. I’m running 250 to 300 people per session.”
The Neville Roller Drome has public sessions Wednesday through Sunday, including Thursday morning Artistic Skates accompanied by old-fashioned organ music, Saturday night Open Skates filled with Top 40 hits and high-energy games and leisurely Sunday Family Skates.
There’s more than 650 pairs of quads and roller blades for rent. Each one is checked by a certified employee before and after it goes out.
Rentals are integral to a rink’s operation, but Park is most passionate about custom skates.
When he’s not on the rink, he’s holed up inside his tiny pro shop. There’s an art to creating an individualized pair of skates and Park is dedicated to the craft.
On a recent Monday evening, Michelle Trapuzzano dropped by the silent drome to discuss skates.
As a child, the Washington resident was a self-described “rink rat”. By the time she reached high school, her attention gravitated toward parties and boys.
Now 46, she’s looking to recapture her youth and shed a few pounds in the process.
“I feel motivated that this is something that I can stick to,” said Trapuzzano, a nurse practitioner. “I love to skate, and I want to get healthy. This way, I can kill two birds with one stone.”
Park had her try on numerous pairs of skates, from the more traditional dance-style boot to a lighter, low-rise model popular with roller derby players.
Trapuzzano made laps around the rink, feeling out each pair and reported back to Park, who got down on the floor by her feet to take measurements. Once she made her decision, the pair, giddy with excitement, shook hands. Parks headed into his workshop to get started on the project.
“I’m a geek who is passionate about my skaters,” he said. “Whether you skate here once or every week, I want you to be comfortable and have a good experience.”
Kristy Locklin is a freelancer.