CAPE MAY — The makeshift railings and the hardwood floor donated by the U.S. Coast Guard are long gone but winter roller skating, a pastime dating back four decades here, has returned at the new Cape May Convention Hall.
Skating at the old hall, which was demolished to make way for a new facility that opened last May, was a winter tradition for local children and a popular venue for children’s birthday parties. Mayor Ed Mahaney said when surveys were done on what uses the public wanted to continue at the new hall, roller skating was the No. 1 pick.
“Some said it wouldn’t pay for itself, we’d damage the floor, and it wouldn’t generate crowds,” said Mahaney.
But those problems appeared to have been solved.
After a six-month search, the city found hard bamboo flooring that can accommodate roller skates without damage. The cement floor of the old hall was converted to hardwood in the mid-1970s when Coast Guard Training Center Cape May donated its old gym floor to the city.
Since opening on Jan. 18, the rink has been drawing 200 to 225 people per session, Mahaney said. On the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, 287 came and paid the $5 admission, with many renting skates at $2 for traditional models and $4 for in-line roller blades.
He said the operation is projected to bring in between $42,000 and $70,000 a year, with expenses likely less than that. The operation isn’t funded by taxpayer dollars, but is part of the Tourism Utility set up to make sure hall revenues pay expenses.
“We’re confident, based on the first three weeks of operation, that the program will at least break even. I’m optimistic it will do better than that,” Mahaney said.
Retired police Sgt. Angie Infanto was one of the organizers back in 1972.
“The whole idea was to have a program to get the kids off the street. It took off right off the bat,” said Infanto, 81, of North Cape May. “I was happy to hear it was back.”
Infanto said the city even had a roller skating team that competed in regional, state and national events. Admission was originally 50 cents and renting skates was a quarter. He taught beginners how to skate and his wife took the tickets. Skate guards played hockey after the rink closed.
The rink met its intended purpose. Infanto said the teenagers were so tired when they left the rink they went straight home.
Back then the rink was set up and stayed open for the entire winter. This wouldn’t work in the new hall that has more demands, but the city found a company in Minnesota that makes skating rink fencing of rubber and plastic that can be installed and removed in a couple hours. Mahaney said there have already been cases where it was removed to accommodate ballroom dancing classes. The mayor said it is so easy to install the city may even have some roller skating during the summer on rainy days when nothing is scheduled in the hall.
The city has already created a new program for toddlers on Friday mornings from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m., so they can learn to skate without getting bowled over.
“This is a time they can learn to skate without teenagers whizzing in and out,” said Jean Whalen, the city’s recreation program coordinator.
With the song “Knick Knack Paddy Whack” playing over the loudspeakers, a group of young parents brought their toddlers out on Friday morning to check the program out.
“I used to come here when I was little. It’s a nice, safe place to go and have fun,” said Jamie Grimes, helping son Liam, 2, learn how to skate.
Grimes and her husband, Jason, who live in North Cape May, both used to come here as children to skate. Jason Grimes said his parents used to drop him off and come back when the session was over.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Jason Grimes.
One complaint about the old hall was the lack of a window facing the ocean. The new hall originally was not going to have a window until a grassroots movement of local residents demanded one. Some skaters really appreciated the view at the southern end of the oval rink.
“I really like the window,” said Mickey Chew, skating with wife, Kate, and 18-month-old daughter Ella.
“It really makes the building,” said Kate Chew.
Besides the new toddler time, assistant director of marketing Michael Chait said, there is discussion about rink time just for adults on Tuesday nights. Nothing has been decided yet.
The general sessions for all skaters are currently Fridays from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m.; Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.; and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The rink is also available for birthday parties, church groups, anniversary parties and is also open on some holidays. For exact times check capemayrecreation.org or call 609-884-9526. There is a $2 charge for nonskaters. Soda and other refreshments are available.
The city has advertising space available on the boards. Mahaney said eight of the 17 spaces have already been sold. The ads are $600 a season for a 33-inch by seven-foot billboard.
“This includes all design and artwork, production and installation. Within two years this will pay off the skating barrier fence,” Mahaney said.
Contact Richard Degener: