Enfield — Gayl Pringle, general manager of Great View Roller Skating, walks across the rink’s floor as skaters glide past her under a canopy of blinking red lights. “This is my home,” she says on her way to the control booth, where she programs the music pulsing through the darkened venue. “I love it.”
Pringle, 59, has been the skate guard, disc jockey, skating instructor, skate wheel doctor, roller derby team member and, finally, manager, at the Enfield skating rink since she first joined it 22 years ago, working behind the snack counter.
“Skating is like a family,” said Pringle, a den mother to generations of skaters. “We all know each other.”
But the family is in danger of being split up.
The owner of Great View has put the powder blue, 16,000-square-foot facility overlooking Mascoma Lake up for sale, a move that many fear will mark the end for the 40-year-old roller skating rink. Great View is the last indoor roller skating rink in New Hampshire following a fire that destroyed Skate Escape in Laconia in 2013.
Peter Martin, the owner, said he and his wife, Diane, “have just decided it’s time to retire. Diane and I have funded it for 10 years and we could have bought a couple houses for that.” Martin declined to say if the rink is profitable, although he acknowledged the business “could be better. … I suspect the property is more valuable for the land and the building.”
Skaters, as if rallying to the aid of a neighbor about to lose his or her home, are trying to do their part to prevent Great View’s demise. An empty, 5-gallon water jug rests on a nearby table. On it is pasted a note that pleads “Save the Rink!!” Inside, crumpled $20, $10, $5 and $1 bills carpet the bottom of the jug like leaves. Last year, as Martin mulled putting the rink on the market, Pringle and others raised money by selling homemade chocolate lollipops and T-shirts with Great View’s logo in front and the words “Rink Rat” printed on the back.
“There are mall rats, so we have rink rats,” Pringle said.
On a recent weekend afternoon, about two dozen skaters rolled in ellipses around Great View’s concrete floor as the strains of Sugar Ray’s Every Morning flowed through the rink’s sound system.
Pringle stands behind the DJ console, explaining the key to programming “rink songs” — she makes sure to play staples The Chicken Dance, Macarena and YMCA during the weekend “family skate time.” On Friday nights, she allows teens to pick the music — “as long as it’s not explicit” — and then switches to classics such as ZZ Top’s Gimme All Your Lovin’ and Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll on Saturday nights, “when adults want more of a beat.”
Pringle said she’d like to buy the rink herself, or to find a backer who would leave her in charge. But Martin’s asking price — $850,000 for the two-lot, nearly 4-acre property — is well out of her reach, even if Martin were to give her a break because of her dedication and interest. She said the rink costs about $150,000 annually to operate, although that includes the mortgage.
Without her knowledge, Pringle’s daughter, Kelley Stark, created an online fundraising campaign for her mother with the goal of raising $500,000 toward the purchase of Great View.
Stark wrote on the GoFundMe page that Pringle “has been managing the rink for years and has done all the upkeep work inside and out. She’s worked strenuous hours at the rink and has (established) a great relationship with her patrons. ... Please help us save this rink so we can let our children and their children share the passion we have for this beautiful sport.”
The campaign has raised $430 so far. Pringle acknowledges it’s a long-shot strategy, and she told her daughter as much. “But Kelley said, ‘Mom, people use GoFundMe to raise money for their breast enlargements, so at least this is important,’ ” Pringle recalled her daughter explaining.
“All I need is 700,000 people to each give me a dollar,” Pringle mused.
As Upper Valley entertainment goes, Great View comes cheap: Admission is $8, plus $2 for skate rentals, for as much time as people want to skate during the time the rink is open — Friday from 7-10 p.m., and 1-4 p.m. and 7-10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. At the snack bar, hamburgers cost $3, hot dogs are $1.75 and chicken nuggets are $2. Coffee is $1, and refills are on the house.
Pringle is aware that the rink probably could charge more, but she said she believes she has a duty to make the experience affordable for people who need to watch every dollar they spend.
“Have you been to the movies lately?” Pringle exclaims incredulously. “It’s $50 with popcorn and snacks by the time you’re through. We keep our prices low because we want families to come here. We want them to be able to afford it because there’s nothing else you can do.”
Still, despite holding the line on cost, Great View is struggling to attract the crowds on Saturday and Sunday nights that it did during the rink’s heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, both Pringle and Martin said. Skating sports enjoy wide popularity, with in-line skating continuing to grow and skateboarding morphing into an extreme sport backed by big-time sponsors like Nike and BMW. But roller skating rinks have been in decline, along with other traditional American family pastimes such as bowling, drive-in movies and miniature golf.
During the 1990s, Pringle said, “we packed the place. That’s when we had 180 to 200 people on a weekend night. On Friday night it was all kids and on Saturday more adults.” Now, she said, it’s more typical to see about 40 people on a Friday night and about 80 people on a Saturday night. Pringle blames the fall-off in skaters to “kids at home on their iPhones” and the rise of in-line skating. “You don’t need a rink” for in-line skating, she said.
Still, despite the drop in skaters, things are a good deal better for Great View now than they were when Pringle was promoted by Martin into the management job five years ago.
The business had slipped, Pringle said, and Martin said that was compounded by a 2006 incident in which a skating party alleged that someone had “contaminated” their beverage with a substance that resulted in the party becoming ill and being taken to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for emergency treatment.
Martin said a subsequent laboratory analysis of the party’s drinks revealed “the only thing in it was Mountain Dew,” and said he believes the whole incident was bogus. But, he added, “we lost 86 percent of our patrons overnight because of the bad publicity. That crippled us.”
Since he put Pringle in charge of the rink in 2012, Martin said, attendance has picked up but has never recovered to prior levels. “Gayl’s done a great job,” he said. “But no matter the advertising we did, people don’t know we’re still open.”
Great View still hosts twice-a-week practice sessions for Twin State Derby, the Upper Valley women’s flat-track roller derby league whose travel team, the Upper Valley Vixens, competes with other teams around New England and was 4-4 last season (seasons run from spring to fall). The 40-member league will be homeless if Great View gets a new owner who decides to close the rink — the nearest full-size rink for roller derby is Skateland in Essex Junction, Vt.
“We’re trying to find other venues,” said Gail Piche, of Plainfield, an orthopedic nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center who serves as one of the league’s referees, as she was untying her skates after an outing at the rink last week. “But I don’t know what we would do. Hopefully somebody who buys it would keep it open as a roller skating rink.”
Piche, 62 — who goes by “Hammerwoman” in the rink and is the oldest skater in the league — said she’s been skating “off and on” for five years. Although league members range in age from their 20s to 60s, there have not been enough recruits to form a second team.
“The active population in the Upper Valley is kind of transient,” Piche noted, and the sport has tended to draw from graduate students at Dartmouth College. She acknowledges that roller skating suffers from a passe image.
“Skating right now isn’t very cool,” she said. “It’s not like it was in the ’80s.” But those who are into skating, she added, are passionate about it. “We have a lot of people that love to skate.”
One of them is Becky Scanlon, an engineering student at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, who recently organized a 27-hour “skate-a-thon” benefit at Great View in association with Positive Tracks, the nonprofit that organizes charitable athletic events, to raise money for the Good Neighbor Health Clinics, which provide free medical and dental care to Upper Valley residents. The event aimed to “combine my passion for roller skating and bring people together for a good cause,” Scanlon said.
Scanlon, 22, a figure skater while she was growing up in Cleveland, was introduced to roller skating three years ago by a friend and became entranced by the sport.
“I started watching the tricks they do and it got me excited to want to compete with them,” she said. For example, she recently pulled off a “360 degree jump” in which she spins in the air and then lands on her skates.
“It’s not graceful yet,” she said, “but I keep working it.”
The rink still attracts area high school students on Friday nights and Saturdays, although nowhere near the number it used to, according to Aiden McKinstry, 17, of Canaan, a senior at Mascoma High School who was at the rink on a recent Saturday along with classmates Ben Gravel, of Grafton, and August Kuhn, of Orange, both also 17.
“We’ve come here just about every weekend since fifth grade,” McKinstry said. “A few years ago almost the entire class would be here, we’d all be here every weekend.” But as classmates progress through high school they acquire other responsibilities, he said, and the skaters have shrunk to a core group.
What’s more, the rink is a safe place to hang out with friends, McKinstry said, although he cautioned it isn’t necessarily a way to woo girls. “Not on a first date,” he advised. “You get all sweaty and stinky. If you’re trying to make a good impression, that’s not the best thing.”
Pringle watches over the teenagers, reminding them to clean up their tables after snacks and not to take candy out to the rink floor, where the tiniest raisin or crumb can send a skater flying. On the counter where she dispenses skates she keeps a jug filled with discarded chewing gum — a multicolor rainbow collection of wads going back four years that she sprays with Lysol every week.
Indeed, Pringle blames a wad of gum stuck on the rink floor for her own accident a few years ago in which she broke her nose and tore a ligament in her arm trying to cushion her fall. “That’s why I’m so strict,” she said. “Gum is the most dangerous thing you can have in here.”
Great View in some cases is attracting its third generation of skaters. Pringle’s 7-year old granddaughter, Cadence, skates there (her parents, Pringle’s daughter Elizabeth and her former husband, Chris Rullo, met at the rink when they each were kids) and can now do “shoot the duck,” a move in which a skater sticks out one leg and skates on the other while in a crouch.
“I’m not very good at it though,” said Cadence as she helped her mother behind the skate counter.
“You’re getting better,” Pringle said to her granddaughter.
Second-generation roller skaters are not at all unusual, however. Alyssa and Josh Stevens, of Newport, N.H., were there with their children, Kase, 6, and Gabby, 4, to treat them to their first time at the rink.
“I used to come here when I was my son’s age, probably once a month,” Alyssa Stevens said as she watched her kids fling out their arms for balance as they learned how to steady themselves on the skates. “It looked so much bigger when I was smaller.”
“It’s a hidden gem for a family,” Josh Stevens chimed in.
“This is not normal for kids these days,” Alyssa Stevens observed as a group of youngsters on skates sailed past her and her husband as they stood against the rink’s partition. “To have a family come out on a Sunday afternoon and skate is not normal, but it’s better than being at home on the iPad.”
Martin, the owner, said he will continue to operate Great View until he finds a buyer. “I’ll keep it going as a rink until it’s sold. I am not looking to lease it,” he said. As one of the largest buildings in Enfield, he believes it could be easily converted into a business space or even a charter school.
But Pringle and other devotees of the roller rink bemoan the prospect of it closing. Pringle herself acknowledges that throwing herself into the rink’s management and overseeing its operation is not a job that comes with financial rewards, only the gratification of doing something she loves and providing a place for families, kids and teens to interact with each other — patrons can’t even get cell reception in the building because of its remote location.
“It takes a special kind of crazy to do this,” Pringle said with a laugh.
John Lippman can be reached at 603-727-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.