By Samantha Clark
San Jose Skate smells like nacho cheese, plus decades of sweat sealed into the leather of its roller skates and the peeling carpet. “There’s that smell,” someone said as he walked through the doors. Still, the place is cool, with arcade games, rattan '70s-era lamps and a disco ball.
But San Jose Skate on Blossom Hill is closing the doors Saturday, and people want to say goodbye. One woman walked her husband to the rink blindfolded for a surprise date at their old hangout.
It is the first place Sam Carrington could go without parents. She and about 20 friends held a reunion at the rink.
“What happened inside these walls, stayed inside these walls,” Carrington said. “At San Jose Skate, it was the first time my lips touched someone else’s for the purpose of romance.”
Carrington also met her first boyfriend and then her first girlfriend at San Jose Skate.
The rink opened as Aloha Roller Palace in 1977, and since then it has hosted countless birthday parties and skating lessons. Now it’s slated for redevelopment as a retail space, said Don Imwalle, president of local developer Imwalle Properties.
"The bottom line is that there are just not a lot of people roller-skating,” he said. “While there are some passionate groups, there are not enough people who are patronizing the business to make it any way viable.”
For skating groups, the loss of a rink leaves them without a home.
Ten-year-old Sayer McDonald is a competitive inline skater on the Milpitas Speed Team. Her mother drove her to south San Jose three days a week for practice. The team’s old rink was demolished for housing, and now Sayer will have to practice outside.
“The wind blows, and there can be dog droppings,” she said.
San Jose Skate has also been home to the Silicon Valley Roller Girls for seven years, which is raising $20,000 to secure a new space. The leagues are saying aloha to the rink by competing in a doubleheader on Saturday. The Silicon Valley Killabytes will take on the Faultline Derby Devilz from Hollister, and the Silicon Valley Dot.Kamikazes will play the Bay Area Berkeley Resistance.
Underground Rock Scene
In the mid-2000s, San Jose Skate was also home to the underground music scene. Local bands and big bands played metal and hard-core rock loudly, often featuring lots of blood-curdling, and unintelligible, screaming. However, when San Jose Skate stopped hosting shows in 2008, the scene died.
High school students and 20-somethings came to hear music at the rink Friday and Saturday nights dressed in black and skinny jeans. They swung their arms in mosh pits, and the neighbors called the cops.
“If I told my parents I was going to a metal show, they would say, ‘No you’re not,’ ” said Andrew Tucker who went to the shows when he was in high school. “I could just say I’m going to the roller rink.”
That crowd is now grown up. Tucker teaches a freshman writing course at San Jose State, where he is also working toward his MFA in creative writing.
He and hundreds of folks from the scene showed up to the rink this weekend for a farewell concert series featuring 17 out of 19 bands that reunited just to play one last time at the venue. Some bands even flew in members from other states to practice, and many practiced daily in the week leading up to San Jose Skate’s last breakdown.
San Jose Skate got them to pick up their guitars and drumsticks again. Tucker’s band, North of the Woods, said that even though the shows now are over, they want to keep playing music.
“We haven’t played together in four years,” said Matt Mrizek, a guitarist in the band. “The show kind of kick-started us to get back in the swing of things.”
Andrew Kutsenda, a former general manager, used to organize the shows. Now he runs his own online marketing company. But when he heard about San Jose Skate’s sale, he messaged all the bands and booked the lineup the next day.
“It’s a place that we’ll talk about for the rest of our lives. A lot of people won’t understand it, a lot of people won’t get it, but what we had here was sacred, too,” Kutsenda said. “We hear crazy stories about guys who, like I said earlier, picked up their first guitar because of a band or like, met their now-wife at San Jose Skate. We’ve heard crazy, crazy stories like that, and it just became ingrained with who we all were.”
Kutsenda said that it was important to send off the rink with a proper farewell after being such a part of their adolescence.
“It’s sad because San Jose Skate’s closing is like the last nail in the scene’s coffin,” Tucker said.