FEDERAL WAY — When the lights dimmed in Pattison’s West Skating Center, the carpet’s psychedelic patterns glowed under ultraviolet light and couples held hands as they swayed to pop music. A slight bend in her knees, speedskater Cynthia Saylor wove backward through the lighthearted crowd.
“These are all my friends,” Saylor said in the roller rink’s snack section on a recent visit.
Pattison’s West is unparalleled in Washington, according to Saylor and other speedskaters. The wood floor offers traction and is low-impact if a skater falls, unlike concrete. The curved ends of the floorboards allow skaters to move with the grain of the wood and skate faster.
Saylor’s speedskating team calls the rink at 34222 Pacific Highway S. home, but the athletes’ future hangs in the balance as owner Mike Pattison prepares to sell the business. He and his wife, Kay, are ready for retirement.
Late last year, the tight-knit indoor skating community was shocked to learn of an impending sale set for late June. However, the building is back on the market after the prospective buyer backed out of the purchase. The die-hard skaters who visit the storied rink, which has served as a training ground for Olympic medalist speedskaters, breathed a sigh of relief at the reprieve. But skaters are uncertain where they’ll go when the venue is sold.
“It’s going to be a big hole in the Federal Way and Washington community of skaters that really cherish this place,” skater Spencer Cox said.
The rink’s intergenerational, diverse skaters find community at the rink every Wednesday through Sunday. Visitors hail from throughout the Puget Sound region, some traveling several hours a week for speedskating classes. One family from Salem, Oregon, rented an apartment in the area so their son could attend speedskating lessons on the weekends, Pattison recounted. Saylor comes from Issaquah several times a week, as does her daughter, who works at the rink’s snack bar and front desk.
Cox, 22, began skating at about 4 years old and regularly drives to the rink from Port Orchard with his father.
“It’s the freest thing,” Cox said. “I love to just get out on the floor and skate around for a couple of hours, listen to my favorite music and just be who I want to be.”
Family connections are common among the skating rink’s crew. A third-generation rink owner, Pattison had a grandfather who owned the waterfront Redondo Skating Arena, south of Seattle, from the late 1940s until it burned down in 1951. Then his dad purchased a Spokane skating rink, Pattison’s North, which was sold to Pattison’s sister, and she later sold it to his oldest son. The Federal Way plot of land where Pattison’s West resides was a forest when Pattison’s dad purchased it in the 1960s, and Mike and Kay opened it to the public in late 1979. Their son Darin now manages the rink, although Mike steps in from time to time.
Hanging on a wall in one of the rink’s backrooms is a 1938 black-and-white photo of Pattison’s dad, on roller skates and in white shorts over snug black pants.
The business has done well financially in recent years, Pattison said. But while skating is in Pattison’s blood, he’s ready for a change of pace after coaching speedskating for most of his adult life.
His career highlights include induction into the USA Roller Sports’ Speedskating Hall of Fame in 2011 and coaching Olympic medalists and short track speed skaters Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski in their youth.
Pattison’s West fills a hole in the Puget Sound region’s inline skating community, which has suffered multiple losses of late. Nearby, Auburn Skate Connection closed during the pandemic, and Tiffany’s Skate Inn in Puyallup was destroyed in a fire last year.
“If we close, that’s three major rinks in this area closing, which I feel kind of bad about,” Pattison said.
But during the pandemic he got a taste of retired life. He bought a house in Grant County and a party barge on the Columbia River. He envisions traveling and spending time with his family and friends when he finally sells the venue. Cabinet makers, a sports bar and several churches have expressed interest in the place.
It’s unlikely that a potential buyer would retain the skating rink, Pattison believes. The land’s appraised at about $1.5 million, according to the King County Department of Assessments.
A prospective buyer would benefit from maintaining the rink if they “won the lottery and just love skating and didn’t care how much it cost,” he said, adding that it would be more affordable to build a new rink on a cheaper property elsewhere in the area.
While the popularity of roller-skating soared as people explored new hobbies during the pandemic-driven shutdowns, roller-skating rinks haven’t done as well. About 30 of 750 roller rinks affiliated with Roller Skating Association International have closed during the pandemic, said Executive Director Jim McMahon. Roller rink owners found it difficult to pay their mortgages and property taxes while their businesses were closed.
“The community really suffers when a roller rink leaves,” McMahon said. Rinks offer exercise and a safe alternative for young people, he said Roller hockey also will be affected by Pattison’s West’s closure, since players regularly practice there.
“It brings tears to my eyes to think of that beautiful maple floor being torn out,” McMahon said.
Speedskaters have scrambled to find other rinks to continue their sport in the past few months, with limited options. Skating outdoors, which has surged in recent years thanks to groups such as Roll Around Seatown, is challenging because of Seattle’s inclement weather and concrete, Saylor said. She considered fundraising so the community could buy the venue, but the cost was prohibitive.
Fadoua Ogde, of Federal Way, believes the outdoor skating community will grow following the rink’s closure, as displaced skaters search for a new home. Ogde began skating at Pattison’s West three years ago. at age 40, when she decided to pursue a lifelong dream of learning to skate.
At the rink, she found a welcoming community and now skates several times a week. She plans to frequent Skateworld Tacoma in the future, although it won’t be the same.
“I’m used to it here,” Ogde said. “I started here.”