"The pandemic and closure of the skatepark is costing me personally about $20,000 and the business over four times that...no need to worry though, we aren't going anywhere."

A lot of riders like to act like they’re too cool for the indoor park but the simple truth is they provide a great service to their local scenes. Possibly most importantly, they give young kids a safe, supervised, and somewhat controlled environment to get acquainted with action sports. Skatepark owners are used to being a (literal) foul-weather friend for a lot of their patrons, but amidst the COVID-19 induced shutdown, they need our support more than ever. If the community doesn’t step up and do their part, a good portion of the country will be left with nowhere to session on those snowy winter days [shakes cold, angry fist at Southern California]. We spoke to the owners of 5050, Breaking Free, Penn Skate, and The Wheel Mill about being forced to remain closed through the shutdown and what they’re doing to cope. Let’s begin with Ed Pollio of New York City’s 5050 Skatepark… 

Ed Pollio – 5050 Skatepark 

Ed and the fam out front of 5050

For anyone that may not be familiar, could you give us a quick rundown of your skatepark?
5050 Skatepark is located in Stapleton, Staten Island. The Fifth Boro In New York City. We are right off the Stapelton train line, just 5 minutes from the Free Staten Island ferry connecting to Manhattan.  We have been in business since 2011. Rent in NYC is insane so the skatepark isn’t as big as most indoor skateparks, but we try to keep the setup fresh by turning it over several times a year. It’s costly, but necessary.  

A portion of 5050’s ever-changing ramp setup

What’s the situation like in your area? I assume the park is still closed but do things seem to be getting better? Any light at the end of the tunnel?
Our friends on the front line have described the situation in New York City as a “warzone”. We have lost parents and grandparents of our locals due to COVID-19. This is real. We have technically had the park closed since March 15th. With the weather getting nicer, we have been seeing more people out in public places. The need for humans to gather is strong.  

In your opinion how necessary/appropriate are the shutdown measures in your state versus the toll it takes on the local business owners like yourselves?
The shutdowns were necessary. NYC should have shut down when California did. We were a week behind because our President and elected officials cared more about their pockets, and we definitely paid for that with a higher death toll.

PPE has been a real problem here in NYC. We actually teamed up with Assembly 3d and YouthBuild Staten Island to build and box 5,000 face shields and 500 ear savers and donated them to Hospitals, EMS, NYPD, FDNY, Special Needs facilities, and Nursing Homes.  It’s a great american story that small businesses and DIYers helped supply the front line heroes during this Pandemic.

This is incredible, Ed is truly a pillar of the community

Are you doing anything different to generate income during this unprecedented time?
The reopening date keeps getting pushed back and we have been denied for every loan and grant we applied for. No one cares about skateparks when they can’t even afford to pay their rents, we are not important with what is going on right now.  

In one of our first emails about doing this article you brought up that there are currently less than 50 private indoor parks in the United States, with most of them spread across the Midwest and East Coast (which coincidentally is also the area being hit hardest by this pandemic). If you were to guess, how many will be left after the shutdown comes to an end. Will you be one of them?
I don’t know if people will want to go to a dirty skate park for a long time. The future looks bleak to me for recreation centers like ours.

5050 has all kinds of swag for sale in their ebay store, including these dope 5-panels

Is there anything else people can do to help right now? Locally or otherwise? 
Email or contact your local indoor skate park and let them know you are there to support. Communication is key. If they don’t feel like the community is going to support them, they are less likely to reopen. Times are really hard and are only going to get worse. Most of us are not getting a break from our landlords. They still want their rent whether we are making it or not. I think if your local park has a GoFundMe, you should try to donate. If your local does reopen, pay to ride, buy products or apparel from them. We at 5050 make a lot of clothing and etc [check out their Ebay store right here]. Hopefully we can produce and sell enough product to keep the bills paid until winter comes and hopefully people will be back. People are power. So please support your culture or it will be gone.   

Dave Raffa – Breaking Free Skatepark 

For anyone that may not be familiar, could you give us a quick rundown of your skatepark?
I own and operate Breaking Free Skatepark in warm and sunny Rochester, New York. We opened in 2016. What we call “BFS” is an endangered breed of raw, East Coast skatepark. We have 22,000 square feet of all wheel-friendly fun, as well as a retail shop.  

Welcome to BFS

What’s the situation like in your area? I assume the park is still closed but do things seem to be getting better? Any light at the end of the tunnel?
We have been closed since March 16th. That evening would have been the three-year anniversary of our monthly Ladies Night. Things are not that bad up here compared to NYC. As of writing this (5/9/2020), Monroe County, which has a population of 741,770 has had 1,623 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 119 documented COVID-19 deaths. There is a phased opening plan, but details are still vague and/or forthcoming. Yesterday, Monroe County had 46 new cases and 1 death, so we are solidly on the tail end of the curve. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, but when will business truly be back to normal? Who knows?! 

In your opinion how necessary/appropriate are the shutdown measures in your state versus the toll it takes on the local business owners like yourselves?
I agree with the steps that have been taken here in New York and Rochester. I also agree with the social distancing protocols. What I don’t agree with are those steps and protocols being backed up by force. For example, BFS should be closed when there is an unprecedented transmissible virus killing people, BUT I should not be facing a $10,000 fine for choosing to be open. If my back is against the wall and I am falling into the red, then I should be able to make the choice, stupid as it may be, to open up and try to save my business. The alternative would be to simply lay down and die. The pandemic and closure of BFS is costing me personally about $20,000 and the business over four times that. What about the CARES ACT?!  We received the maximum amount allowed from both the PPP and EIDL programs, which totaled $15,500 (and only $5,500 can be used for the rent, utilities, or bills). Our rent is $9,000 a month. No need to worry though– we got it covered, we aren’t going anywhere. 

A partial view of the rhythm section at Breaking Free

Are you doing anything different to generate income during this unprecedented time?
I have taken this opportunity to drive home the point that BFS is here for the community. In a time of uncertainty, BFS is doing its best to be a rock in the Roc. We have installed some DIY rails around town for people to ride/skate. We built some more flat rails out scrap metal to sell (and gave one away in an online contest). We also did some projects around the park.  All this has been documented in a vlog series we called “BFS Quarantined.” As for generating income, we have been offering private rentals of the skatepark, sold some stuff in our web store and have been doing bike and scooter repairs via appointment.  

No pedaling in the bowl!

Ed Pollio from 5050 pointed out that there are currently less than 50 private indoor parks in the United States, with most of them spread across the Midwest and East Coast (which coincidentally is also the area being hit hardest by this pandemic). If you were to guess, how many will be left after the shutdown comes to an end. Will you be one of them?
I think timing is everything here. If this had hit earlier, we would be in a really rough spot. If it had hit later, it would’ve been less harsh. Running a skatepark is a seasonal business. Having a strong winter and saving money for the summer is clutch. If we were struggling or didn’t plan seasonally, I don’t think we would make it out of this without taking on sizable debt. I have already heard of a few businesses closing, including at least one skatepark. Even if most parks make it through this, it will really come down to next winter. We are all hoping for a strong winter 2020-21. As long as things are back to normal by then, I think we will be back on track. There are many “ifs,” but here’s to hoping the other forty-something parks make it, too.  

Local rider Terrell slinging the bars during better days.
Photo: Dave Raffa

Is there anything else people can do to help right now? Locally or otherwise?
Just like always, keep your local indoor skatepark in mind during the warmer months. The few who brave the storm of operating an indoor park, do it because they love you and their community. Reciprocate that love if you want a somewhat warm and dry place to ride during those winter months.  As for Breaking Free Skatepark and me, check out our YouTube and podcast (Breaking Free Speech). If you’re local, hit us up for private rental, retail sales or repairs. Be safe out there. We are going to get through this. 

Chris Budinetz – Penn Skate 

Owner Chris Budinetz (center left), his son, and his dedicated crew of helpers, including two that are currently in quarantine and were crudely photoshopped into this picture [laughs].

For anyone that may not be familiar, could you give us a quick rundown of your skatepark? 
Penn Skate is located at 301 South Carlisle St in Allentown PA. Just celebrated being open 22 years on May 8th. We offer 30,000 square feet of terrain, BMX, skate, scooter pro shop, and classic arcade.

Penn Skate is home to the infamous Little Devil Bowl. As gnarly as it looks it’s way crazier in person.

What’s the situation like in your area? I assume the park is still closed but do things seem to be getting better? Any light at the end of the tunnel?
We have been shut down since March 15. Although we have been given some kind of re-opening time frame it continues to get pushed back. We are considered entertainment which is the third phase of the government’s re-opening timeline…. as of now it is scheduled to start June 4, if it goes as scheduled, we would expect to open sometime late July or August. If that wasn’t a big enough punch in the face to the park, Mother Nature decided to kick up the wind and blow off 120 feet of our roof. Followed by more high winds and heavy rains which flooded the back section of our park. The two bowls had water in them, mini ramp completely saturated and sitting in water, and more damage to the street side. This was after we spent weeks at the beginning of the shutdown resurfacing everything. So with the park being shut down there isn’t any income coming in to purchase materials. We have removed the damaged sheets, and dried out the best we can, and when its affordable, we will rebuild.

In your opinion how necessary/appropriate are the shutdown measures in your state versus the toll it takes on the local business owners like yourselves? 
I am no doctor or scientist, but if Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, and other stores can operate with guidelines in place, so can I! I understand the riding area of the park is a no go, but my store should not have to operate the way it currently is. The bills are piling up and the money coming in does not cover the money going out.

Andrew Messer snaps a picture perfect table over the boxjump at Penn.
Photo: Nilo Hodge

Are you doing anything different to generate income during this unprecedented time?
We have been operating on an appointment only schedule. We do get a lot of walking and riding customers coming in also. I keep the garage door open about 4 feet so customers can see someone is there. We only have one customer in the shop at a time. Also, we have increased our online store with more items. Being mostly a one man show trying to do everything isn’t always an option, but I try. I am not a big fan of GoFundMe for business. I feel it’s for more family-oriented issues where a person or persons have nowhere left to look for help. I encourage my customers to purchase gift cards, they don’t expire, and if you’re willing to donate money, why not get something you can use in return.

Ed Pollio from 5050 pointed out that there are currently less than 50 private indoor parks in the United States, with most of them spread across the Midwest and East Coast (which coincidentally is also the area being hit hardest by this pandemic). If you were to guess, how many will be left after the shutdown comes to an end. Will you be one of them? 
The biggest issue I face with the pandemic is the fallout. What kind of restrictions will be in place if and when we can re-open? Limited people in park calculated by square footage……Will people even go to indoor businesses post C-19? As for the future of the park, I have a great crew of guys that are always at my side with a simple text. The last few years we all have worked extremely hard to plan and change the layout of the park to give our customers what they want. I don’t know where the park would be without them. We are going to continue to plan ahead and make changes post COVID-19 as we are capable of doing so. My crew and I have already discussed the future of certain ramps and other obstacles and are planning changes. I feel if customers will come back when this passes, we will be there for them.  

Longtime local Mark Tomasic regularly blasts this transfer from the spine into the vert wall.
Photo: Nilo Hodge

Is there anything else people can do to help right now? Locally or otherwise? 
Our pro shop is open by appointment, just a phone call or message us to give us a heads up if you’re coming, online site for sales also. Customer repairs, pick up, or delivery. With indoor parks disappearing every year our sports need to recognize that and if the indoor parks are going to survive, we need their help. Indoor parks can’t be there for you in the winter, if you don’t visit them a few times during the other seasons! 

Harry Geyer – The Wheel Mill

For anyone that may not be familiar, could you give us a quick rundown of your skatepark?
The Wheel Mill is located in Pittsburgh, PA. We are an 80,000 square foot bike park catering to all levels of BMX and MTB riders as well as balance bikes, and people just learning to ride for the first time. We’ve been open since 2013.

What’s the situation like in your area? I assume the park is still closed but do things seem to be getting better? Any light at the end of the tunnel?
PA is in a phased reopening plan, but we are getting classified as a “gym” which can’t reopen until the last phase. I’m not waiting around for that to happen, so I’m remodeling to open a larger service department since bike shops are allowed to operate in all phases. We may go back to the “red” phase if things get worse, so I’m not looking at this as a linear progression. The government is pretty arbitrary about picking winners and losers, so we have to do everything conceivable to remain solvent.  

Hopefully one day soon the Wheel Mill will be able to host rad jams like this again safely.
Photo: Murphy Moschetta

In your opinion how necessary/appropriate are the shutdown measures in your state versus the toll it takes on the local business owners like yourselves?
My sister and her husband got really sick in NYC and it was scary since that system was totally overloaded, and if they needed to be hospitalized who knows what kind of care would have been available. I’m all for erring on the side of caution when it comes to saving lives, but the lack of leadership at a national level really turned it into an “every man for himself” situation on the state level. If there had been a strong coordinated effort on the national level to shunt resources to the most affected areas in different states, I don’t think we would have needed to be as cautious as we were. But, when you have no backup you have to keep a little more in hand in case something blows up. As far as how PA carried out the lockdown, It has been kind of arbitrary. I could do a better job of ensuring social distancing in the park than they do in the city parks because it’s free for all in the unsupervised city parks. I’m also not sure why people need to be able to buy grass seed at Home Depot, but we can’t ride bikes. But bike parks are still not very well understood. But it’s crazy and easy to armchair QB. When the doctors all said “reopen the liquor stores, too many people are being hospitalized for withdrawal”, you know it’s messed up.

Are you doing anything different to generate income during this unprecedented time?
We’ve been selling off rental bikes and parts that we have on hand. Up until last Friday we weren’t allowed to do any construction, so we weren’t building any ramps. Once we have the service department up and running we’ll hit that hard for sure. Everyone had been great about helping out with our t-shirts, bandanas, and Vans Foot the Bill program is super rad! People are buying gift cards which is great too.

Ed Pollio from 5050 pointed out that there are currently less than 50 private indoor parks in the United States, with most of them spread across the Midwest and East Coast (which coincidentally is also the area being hit hardest by this pandemic). If you were to guess, how many will be left after the shutdown comes to an end. Will you be one of them?
That’s a tough question. I hope all of them. I think most parks are owned by riders and not corporations that make decisions based on profit margins. None of us really make much money to begin with so overhead is already trimmed down as far as it can go. The other side of that is that all of the money invested is mostly what we can personally afford to take away from our families. But, we will be the cockroach of bike parks [laughs], we’ll be around long after what we now think of as humans are gone, [laughs]. We’ll do everything in our power to stay open, so don’t judge us if we start selling garden mulch and toilet paper [laughs].

Tons of riders enjoying the street room during the most recent Welcome Jam
Photo:Murphy Moschetta

Is there anything else people can do to help right now? Locally or otherwise?
Everyone has been great, what you’re doing to raise awareness is awesome. We are far from the only ones hurting, and we aren’t being asked to risk our health for the general public, so I can’t really complain. Quarantine in the USA is still better than regular daily life is in a lot of other countries. Buy some cool merch, get some Vans, and a gift card and call it good! You can pick up a pair of shoes at vans.com/footthebill. All the net proceeds go to us. You can also buy a gift card or pick up a shirt at this link: www.thewheelmill.com/support-the-park 

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