The boys and girls who skated, partied and flirted at beloved, bedraggled Bellevue Skate King over the decades are saying their goodbyes.
It’s seen better days, that’s for sure.
You go into the Bellevue Skate King and you can’t help noticing the duct tape covering a large chunk of carpeting that wore out.
Some of the scruffy rental roller skates go back 40 years to when the rink opened at Northeast 24th Street and 140th Avenue Northeast.
A lonely mirror disco ball, and a “starburst” with flashing colored light bulbs, provide a basic ceiling display.
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In the fluorescent snack bar, you can buy $2.50 hot dogs or $10 reheated frozen pizza and gobble them in economy chairs with plastic backs.
Then there is the distinctive smell of the place. It lingers and lingers on your clothes. A ritual for some customers is to wash their pants and shirts after a skating session.
It is just described as “Skate King Smell,” the same now as decades ago: sweat, leftover pizza, the old carpeting. It’s a potent combination.
But when news began filtering out about its closure this summer, oh, the emotions poured out about this shopworn place.
This was history and memories for kids growing up on the Eastside.
Amber Kiss, 39, of Kirkland, who handles accounts at an insurance company, was 14 when she began going to the roller rink with her sisters on Friday and Saturday nights.
Their parents drove them there. “It kept us out of trouble.”
This was where boys and girls met, and skated, and flirted.
The ritual hasn’t changed much. Girls in one circle, skating around the rink; boys in another circle. Then the circles meet, then they separate.
“I met my first real boyfriend there. He was the tall, dark and somewhat cocky guy wearing overalls with one suspender hanging down,” says Kiss. “He was with the group of popular boys that could skate amazingly well that all of the girls wanted.”
She and Kenny Cresap dated for almost three years. Then, as teen love goes, they broke up.
They married others. They divorced.
A quarter of a century passed, they kept in touch, and a year and a half ago, Amber and Kenny became an item again.
Yes, they plan to be back before the rink closes at the end of June: “One more slow couples skate with Kenny!”
It wasn’t so much that the Skate King was losing customers, says its manager, Michael Lewis.
“We average 2,000 to 2,300 skaters a week, although in the summertime it’s slower,” he says. In our few weeks of sunny weather, the kids go outside.
On YouTube, there are numerous videos of Skate King birthday parties, of a kid high-fiving family while skating around the rink to AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell.”
It’s just that the numbers weren’t adding up for the skating rink, says Scott Evans, vice president of the Evans Co., a family-owned business that manages numerous Eastside properties.
It also owns the rink, and he says that the real estate and building on which Skate King sits is worth more than the skating business.
“We’ve been subsidizing the rent for a long time,” he says of the 22,000-square-foot building.
He says that Eastside Harley-Davidson will take over the site.
And so now, especially on weekend nights, there is a certain melancholy as the closing looms.
On a recent Saturday, Lisa Campbell-Smith, of Kirkland, is there with her daughter, Aoife, 11.
It is “retro” night, meaning lots of 1970s and ’80s music. A couple of adults have shown up in skating outfits from that era; you know, those tight shorts and knee-high, striped crew socks.
Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” blasts through eight large box speakers near the ceiling.
“It’s become a social event of sorts. You see the same people over and over again,” says Campbell-Smith.
Aoife describes the experience for her: “The music. The skating. The friends.”
Not a bad summary.
Roller skating has always been a social event, ever since it was invented by John Merlin in the 1760s in London.
Merlin got the interest of the public, but unfortunately, according to the National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln, Neb., “He could not control his speed or direction and crashed into a large mirror, severely injuring himself and possibly setting back the sport of roller skating for years.”
By 1866, this country’s first roller rink opened at a Rhode Island resort.
The business has always gone in cycles, says Jim McMahon, head of the Roller Skating Association International in Indianapolis.
The Skate Kings themselves illustrate that point.
There used to be seven in this state. The Bellevue one, opened in 1974, was the first one, and it’s the last one.
Tacoma, Spokane, Kennewick and other locations were added in the next six years. Within a decade, they began to close — turned into a post office, a church.
The industry’s high point was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, says McMahon.
“And you had Michael Jackson roller skating, and Donald Trump,” says McMahon. “Hollywood kinda adopted roller skating.”
And who can forget “Roller Boogie,” the 1979 film starring Linda Blair, named by one critic as one of “The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.”
Back in those years, says McMahon, there were some 1,600 roller rinks in the country; now there are about 1,200.
It is not a dying business, he says, with 13 new rinks opening each year for the past five years.
The problem is finding three acres within easy driving distance of customers to accommodate both the rink and parking, says McMahon.
There is talk among Skate King fans about finding another Eastside location.
Manager Michael Lewis, who’s worked at the Skate King for 30 years, talks about maybe having a “Skate King Road Show,” in which the business would go to schools or community centers.
There are other roller rinks in the area that will gladly take the Skate King customers.
In Federal Way, there is the family-run Pattison’s West Family Skate Center.
Owner Mike Pattison, 65, says he has done well with the business, doing OK even in bad years.
He says he can’t explain why, but the roller-skating business goes in seven-year cycles. Right now, he says, it’s on an upswing.
Pattison says he hopes to pass the business on to one of his sons, Darin, who is the manager of the place.
Never mind that his accountants remind him “how much the real estate is worth.”
Not going to sell out, says Pattison.
“It’s all I know how to do,” he says.
Words they had hoped in vain to hear in Bellevue.