Beloved Skate World to make most of final days before it's transformed into a church

It's been a popular venue for birthday parties, functioned as many high schoolers' first job — and even a spot where young romances blossomed.

So, when Gresham Skate World hosts its final lap on Sunday, Oct. 28 — after nearly 44 years in business — the community will be parting ways with more than just a skating rink.OUTLOOK PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Doris Johnson shows fine form as she moves across the floor during her 49th birthday celebration at Skate World on Saturday, Oct. 13.

At one of the last Saturday night skates at Skate World, 1220 N.E. Kelly Ave., on Oct. 13, patrons of all ages packed the house showing off their four-wheeled moves. Doris Johnson celebrated her 49th birthday with one last visit to Skate World.OUTLOOK PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Hannah Johnson gingerly makes her way around the arena at Skate World on Saturday, Oct. 13.

"I'm kind of saddened by it," Johnson said of the closure. "I've been coming here since I was a little girl. It's a great place to hang out."

Johnson taught her daughter to skate there, and her now-26-year-old joined her mom for the latest birthday party.

Despite Skate World's ongoing popularity, the short but expansive building needs extensive repairs, and Manager Josh Bird said the business was unlikely to make enough of a profit to fund needed fixes. Facing these burdens, Skate World was sold in August to Gresham's Rise City Church in a private, off-the-market transaction. The church plans to remodel the roller rink into its new chapel.

Skate World is where parents taught their children to skate for decades, and many kids ended up using the center as a hang-out spot as they progressed to teen status.

Skaters Jay Wesson and Jeremiah Van Cleve, both 15, said their friend group meets at Skate World nearly every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening. Members of their group attend different schools, and Jeremiah said the rink provides a way for them to connect. OUTLOOK PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Chris Sheridan and his son Chris enjoy their time roller skating at Skate World on Saturday, Oct. 13.

Once the rink closes, they may spend some weekends at the Oaks Amusement Park rink in Southeast Portland.

"But we're not going to go three times a week," Jeremiah said.

After Skate World, Oaks, at 7805 S.E. Oaks Park Way on the east bank of the Willamette River, will be the only roller rink open in the Portland area — and one of the few remaining in the state. OUTLOOK PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Isabella Macpherson gets her skates on.

All good things

In addition to needing money for a remodel, Bird said it was time for the business to hang up its skates because of the state's mandated yearly increase to minimum wage, which will likely hurt the business's bottom line.

In the densely populated Portland metro area, the minimum wage will rise to $14.75 an hour by 2023, and subsequent yearly increases will be tied to inflation.

Bird estimated wage adjustments would tack on thousands of dollars a year to the center's payroll, and to mitigate the higher overhead, admission prices would have to increase.

"That is hard when you have to take admission up to $12 or $13 to cover it," Bird said. "Economically, that's not good for families of 10 or seven to try and (pay for) that."

Four years ago, the most expensive session was $6.75, and rates have increased to $9.50 per person for regular sessions. OUTLOOK PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Manuel Guzman works the skating rental booth at Skate World on Saturday, Oct. 13.

"It's (already) really hard for families to afford that," he said.

Adding to the decision to close, Gresham Skate World owner Bill Cook, who opened the Gresham facility in December 1974, died in 2013. Since then, what's left of the string of Skate Worlds that Cook opened on the West Coast in the 1970s and '80s have closed as the buildings were sold.

The Springfield Skate World closed in August, and the Hillsboro Skate World, which closed in June 2014, was turned into storage units.

'Central heartbeat'

Rise City Church Primary Preaching Pastor Jason Clarke said he respects Skate World's place as a community asset, and wants to turn the center into something the community can enjoy more than a parking lot or storage facility.

The church purchased the building because the nondenominational congregation is rapidly growing and needed more space for its services. Rise City started approximately four years ago with members first meeting in a Fairview coffee shop. OUTLOOK PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Wendy Hanken and Alvaro Carreiro help each other skate at Skate World on Saturday, Oct. 13.

Residents who grew up skating at the rink can find a new welcoming home at Rise City Church, he said.

"And them finding a church community to be a part of in that same building they grew up playing video games and skating around in, I think there's great value in that rather than it being something that's just a warehouse," Clarke said. "The central heartbeat stays the same. Skating and church are very different, but the common idea there is community."

Church officials honored their future home by hosting a night at Skate World on Saturday, Oct. 6.

"That was awesome," Clarke said. "It was a night of looking back and reminiscing, but also dreaming forward of what this could be."

Clarke is examining ways to use the building for more than just Sunday worship services. Church leaders are talking with coffee shops about leasing out a portion of the center for use during the week and seeking other creative uses.

Magic memories

Like many recreational facilities in its heyday, what makes Skate World special is its atmosphere — complete with booming pop music, colorful lights and a flashing disco ball.

The Outlook asked community members to share their memories of Skate World on Facebook. Here are a few of the responses:

  • Keith A Kudrna: "I'll never forget the all-night skates there while I was in middle school, complete with 'air band' competitions."

  • Kelli Lacey: "My husband and I met at Skate World in 1989. We also worked there together. We are still friends with people we worked with. So many amazing memories. Our kids were on skates as soon as they could walk. So sad to see this place go!"

  • Jessica Wayne: "My little sister broke her leg there in middle school, and I dedicated my first song to my first boyfriend there too!"

    n Stephanie Solomon: "My favorite memory was the dice roll game and getting pickle juice in the tiny cups. So many birthday parties to be had there and fun memories made!" OUTLOOK PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The Gresham Skate World has been in business for 44 years and will close on Sunday, Oct. 28.

  • Lori Pyles: "Many nights of hoping the cute boy would get me the plastic rose and my name would be announced to come pick it up. The giggles from my girlfriends when it happened and anticipation for the couple's song."

  • Bob Fenske: "I remember when it was brand new. The mural of Mount Hood and the lighting of it was so cool. Getting up the guts to ask a girl to skate for 'couples only' and that red shag carpet everywhere! Need I say more?"

  • Richard Golden: "The very first day I moved up here from Sacramento, Calif., my family took me to Skate World. I was 11 years old at the time, (I'm) now 43, and I have to say the place left an everlasting impression on me. Who couldn't forget those couples' skates when finally you got to hold hands with the girl you had a crush on. Who could forget speed skate when it was finally your turn to prove how fast you could go, and man you just hope the song was a rockin' song. And then there's the dice game. And who could forget those all-nighters fighting sleep as you skated around and around. Yes, great friendships were forged there. Some tough memories too, but overall will be a huge part of my adolescence. Thankfully I had a fun place to grow up at and experience some really good times, music, learning, and growing."

    Wait, wait — just one more skate!

    Gresham Skate World, 1220 N.E. Kelly Ave. will close on Sunday Oct. 28. Here are a few more skating sessions this weekend and next week (for the full schedule, visit

    Final sessions on Oct. 28, include a regular skate at noon to 4 p.m. for $8, followed by an encore "CHEAP SK8" from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. for $5.75.

    The center will mark Halloween with its last all-night skate from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, for $25.

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