Longform

Four on the Floor

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Colorado has more than its share of great moments in roller-skating history--the turn-of-the-century Mammoth rink on East Colfax Avenue; a native of this state who skated his way across the country in the Fifties; even a street brawl involving youth gangs throwing roller skates at each other. But none of these august events appears to have been connected with Roll-O-Rama, where business just quietly rolls on.

The rink was built in 1960 by a partnership that included Welby businessman Peter Ritkouski; its construction came at the end of a Fifties roller-skating fad that saw rinks pop up across Colorado.

"But we didn't have one up here," Ritkouski points out, "and for the first year, business was great. After that, I don't know what happened."

In 1963 Ritkouski and company sold out to a second partnership, which included a pair of local kiddie-TV-show hosts: Fred and Fay Taylor. Already in their twelfth year of broadcasting, the Taylors may have been casting about for alternative opportunities.

"They gave up their show in December of '66," says the Taylors' longtime producer, Ken Custer, whose wife, Noelle, took over the show when the Taylors quit. "After fifteen years, anyone would get tired of it." Custer remembers the Taylors' show as a one-hour ball of energy featuring a live studio audience, a birthday party for anyone in that audience who qualified, treats for all, cartoons and "Tum Tum Time," during which everyone on the set cleaned up the mess to the strains of martial music. "I don't remember hearing about any roller rink," Custer says, "but I know that Fred got interested in scuba diving and that he passed away in Texas, where they'd moved so he could dive."

In the Seventies, Fay Taylor returned to Denver, where she ran a dress shop and became a fixture in the Metro Denver Dinosaurs, a group of old-time broadcasters. She suffered a stroke ten years ago. "She's pretty much confined to a wheelchair, but she gets around," Custer says. "She is sharp and still has a great sense of humor."

(That much is clear from Fay Taylor's home voice-mail message, which includes this: "If this is an obscene or harassing phone call, hold on while we get our coffee and cigarettes." Sadly, she did not return calls.)

While regulars like to trade stories about Roll-O-Rama's past, its current owner does not. "I wouldn't know about any of that," says Mary Smith, who bought the rink with her late husband, Jack, in 1980. The Smiths had both worked at Coors for years when their son convinced them that roller-skating was the wave of the future. "He had worked at rinks and thought it was the thing," Smith recalls, "but let me tell you: You don't ever own a rink. It owns you."

It is hard to get a moment with Smith when she does not claim that she is about to be overwhelmed by the excess work. She hasn't had a week off in many years, she says, and relies on volunteers rather than regular employees to help keep the place going. She hasn't had time to skate in three years. Right now she is working the refreshment stand, waiting patiently while a six-year-old debates the merits of Laffy Taffy versus Almond Joy.

"Do you know what you want yet?" Smith finally asks him. "No? Well, I know what I want. A vacation. There is no rhyme or reason to this business. If I don't schedule help, we're inundated. Or it's a night like this. I guess this is tonight's mad rush."

Out on the floor, a half-dozen skaters crouch with one foot extended in front of them. "Oh, we have some good duck-shooters out here tonight," the DJ crows. "Some very good duck-shooters."

Among the expert duck-shooters who flocked to Roll-O-Rama was Smith's husband, Jack. "He was a live wire," she recalls. "He had skates made for a Saint Bernard who lived across the street. The skaters liked it. The dog liked it."

The time for that sort of thing, however, is past. Smith keeps afloat by leasing the rink out to roller-hockey leagues, which feature the infamous in-line skates. "The blades are here," Smith concedes. "They're not going to go away." Some skaters even wear them to regular sessions at Roll-O-Rama, although Smith reserves the right to inspect the skates first for brakes that might damage her wooden floor.

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff