Smile Politely

Skateland stands the test of time

Rollerskates are lined up on blue and orange shelves at Skateland in Savoy.
Anna Longworth

There are not many businesses that stick around for 40+ years, and continue their level of popularity throughout generations. Skateland Savoy is one of those businesses. The appeal of a roller rink is undeniable, and it’s fed by a healthy dose of nostalgia. The brightly colored carpeting and walls, low-tiled ceiling, disco ball, and rows of brown and orange skates comprise an familiar aesthetic for anyone who’s spent any time in a one. I grew up in Bloomington-Normal in the eighties, and spent birthdays and Girl Scout troop outings at Skate ‘N Place, the local rink. Twenty-ish years later I was scheduling birthday parties for my kids at Skateland and watching them live it up with their friends while gliding around the rink, stopping for the occasional slushie break.

I spoke with Bob Householder, who has co-owned Skateland Savoy with his wife Jeanne for 20 years, about the roller rink business and its enduring appeal. 

Photo by Anna Longworth.

The Householders took ownership of the rink in 2002, but Bob has been in the roller skating business since the seventies. “I was a rink rat at the [rink] in East Moline. When I turned 16 I started working there, went back and forth to college then came back home…the owner of the shopping center [that housed the rink] wanted me to take over so he could retire. His daughter and son-in-law ran the rink. The son-in-law wanted to venture out and do other things, so I was asked to help her run the skating rink. At some point he made us the operators and just kind of stepped away.” Eventually the rink was razed to make room for a gas station, and Householder bought Skateland from and moved his family to Savoy. 

Photo by Anna Longworth.

Skateland has been a constant in an ever changing landscape of entertainment options. Householder attributes that to the generational aspect of the business. “Most of the skating rinks that are in existence today have been in their communities for 30-40 years. The people in those communities have grown up with roller skating. Before any other activities came to existence, they all learned to roller skate.” Householder’s 47 years of experience in the business have surely been a contributing factor in the growth and success of Skateland.

The roller skating business has had its ups and downs. Roller skating really hit its peak in the late seventies when the disco era was in full swing. “Because movie stars and musicians loved to skate, you didn’t have to do much advertising to get people in the door.” During recessions, when other businesses might be hurting, they do a little better since folks are staying closer to home and looking for relatively inexpensive entertainment. A valley the Householders weren’t prepared for (but really who was): a global pandemic

“Being closed two years ago, then closed off and on for nine to ten months, then only able to be open with 50 people; it didn’t pay the bills.” They did open when they were able, to have a place for people to go for fun, and so their employees could continue to work. They’ve slowly begun to see pre-COVID crowds return, but Householder doesn’t think they will ever fully financially recover from the effects of the pandemic. They are also dealing with challenges seen across multiple industries, including staff shortages and issues with getting the supplies they need. But like other industries, they continue to pivot and adjust to stay afloat and do what they can for their employees and customers. 

Photo by Anna Longworth.

And that’s what means the most to Householder: the people. I asked what he enjoys most about the job: “The smiles. The families, the smiles. My employees.” At this point he spoke with tears in his eyes, as shared about his mostly teenage staff, and his concern for their well-being amidst the various closings over the past two years. 

Householder has seen multiple generations of families come through Skateland  parents or grandparents who learned to skate there now bringing their kids. He once had a roller derby skater recall that she bought her first pair of skates from him when he ran the rink in the Quad Cities. “You never know when you’re going to run into someone whose life you’ve touched.”

Photo by Anna Longworth.

Skateland’s has public hours for skating and laser tag on Wednesdays, as well as Friday through Sunday. They are also an extremely popular choice for birthday parties — they emphasize the full service aspect. Parties include pizza (dough made in-house), cupcakes, and arcade tokens for all in addition to the skating and/or laser tag. This summer they’ll be participating in Kids Skate Free, which allows kids 12 and under to skate for free up to two times a week. They offer learn to skate lessons — which adults can take as well — though they are nearing the end of the session as spring and summer activities are ramping up. Visit the Skateland Savoy website for find out all they have to offer. 

Photo by Anna Longworth.

Whether you have kids, or you’re a kid at heart wanting to reclaim a bit of your childhood glory with a stunning demonstration of “shoot the duck”, Skateland is worth a visit.

Skateland Savoy
208 West Curtis Road
W 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
F 7 to 10 p.m.
Sa 2 to 5 p.m., 7 to 10 p.m.
Su 2 to 5 p.m.

Top photo by Anna Longworth.

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