By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Time, for the most part, has stood still inside the walls of Lowe's Skateway. There's still the limbo, the couples' skate, the light show and the disco ball. Every 13 or 14 years, the old skates are replaced by a rack of new ones. The rink was replaced in October for the first time in 32 years.
"It's nostalgic. I like it. It makes me feel good that we accomplished something that has lasted," said Dave Lowe, now 50, who at age 18 partnered with his parents, Bill and Joan, to build the popular hangout.
His wife, Elisia, who holds court over the DJ booth, adds some new tunes each year -- "Gangnam Style," "Party Rock Anthem" -- but the music of Michael Jackson and Blondie still spills out over the rink.
"I guess the skating business is one thing that has never really changed," Lowe said last week on a busy Friday night.
To many of those regulars, Lowe hasn't changed, either. He still takes their cash at the front window (no credit or debit cards), and still can do "shoot the duck" and dizzying spins.
"This is my second home," he said.
It was 11 years ago at the rink that he met his wife, just as his father met his mother at the Playmore, which the elder Lowe took over operations of in 1945 on North Broadway.
"She came to skate, and they ended up getting married," Lowe said of his mother and father, now both in their 80s.
Through the decades, other rinks also have entertained skaters in Pittsburg, including Skateworld that opened in 1977. None remain, however: Skateworld closed in 1984 and is now occupied by Moore's Furniture. A McDonald's now stands where the Playmore once was on North Broadway.
Fun family atmosphere
"We're still here, though," Lowe said. "We're still going strong. It's good, healthy fun for the family. It's non-alcoholic, no smoking, what a lot of parents are looking for. It's a pretty pure place to go."
It's also a great place for teens to be employed, noted Ty Muse, a junior at Frontenac High School, who is one of 10 staff members.
"I started coming here in third grade, and now this is my third year to work here," he said. "They are the best bosses I could ask for. They want us to have a good time while we're working."
Every weekend since Skateway opened in 1981, the staff has watched as other third grade skaters have matured into middle school skaters and eventually into high school skaters. They disappear for a little while, then return as parents of third grade skaters themselves.
"We have regulars, and I literally watch them grow up. I think that's the sad part about this business," Lowe said. "Time just goes too fast."
Tammy Baker, 50, was thinking the same thing while giving herself a pep talk at the edge of the rink, hanging on to the carpeted wall.
"I can do this. I can do this," she said of being on wheels. "It's been a while. I'm a little scared."
Her three children -- Trina, 29, Austin, 24, and Ryan, 17 -- zoomed around the rink.
"They've been skating here since we moved here 16 years ago and I brought them. Now, they bring me," she said, laughing.
But Baker was enjoying herself, nonetheless.
"It's an atmosphere that I see people of all ages teaching each other tips and tricks and enjoying physical activity," she said. "It's a lot of fun. You get to meet others and socialize. And if you fall, there's always someone to pick you up."
Jazmin Havens, a sixth grader at Pittsburg Community Middle School, said she can vouch for that.
"When I first started, I fell down, but you just keep trying and people give you tips and you get better," she said.
She and her sister, Autumn Havens, a sophomore at Pittsburg High School, said they now go skating almost every weekend with friends.
"It's a place where you can chill, hang out with friends and just have fun," she said. "It would be kind of boring on a Friday night without it."
"Every day is like I don't go to work," Lowe said. "I just come have fun."
1743: The first recorded use of roller skates was in a London stage performance, but the inventor's name was lost to history.
1760: The first recorded skate invention was by John Joseph Merlin, who demonstrated a primitive inline skate with metal wheels.
1819: The first patented roller skate design -- also inline and metal -- was in France by M. Petitbled.
1863: The four-wheeled turning roller skate was first designed in New York City by James Leonard Plimpton in an attempt to improve upon previous designs. It was a huge success.
1866: The first public skating rink opened in Newport, R.I., with the support of Plimpton. The design of the quad skate allowed easier turns and maneuverability, and the quad skate came to dominate the industry for more than a century.
1876: An Englishman named William Brown, working closely with Joseph Henry Hughes, patented a design for the wheels of roller skates that kept the two bearing surfaces of an axle, fixed and moving, apart. The design was the basis for modern day skates. Also that year, the toe stop was first patented.
Source: The History of Roller Skating
Other skating rinks in the region: