A new owner has resurrected the Illawarra’s only rollerskating rink in the wake of a same-sex kissing furore that led to the venue’s closure.
A month after the previous owners closed the doors, advising they had received threats and were permanently walking away “due to safety concerns”, skating at the Oak Flats rink resumed under the disco ball last week.
Life-long skate enthusiast and NSW inline hockey team member Michael Ford, 35, has bought the business. He plans a name change – District Skate – has introduced eftpos and replaced the Friday night disco soundtrack with RNB/electronic music, but otherwise will make few alterations.
The sale came about seven years after he half-jokingly told the then-operators “if you ever want to sell, just let me know”.
“From that passing comment, the owners sent an email and said, ‘if you’re still interested ...’,” he said.
“We’ve had really good public support for [reopening]. Every post has been so happy - ‘we can take the kids there again’.
“In the short term we’ve seen a pretty good recovery. It’s still not where it should be, but I think it’s recovered quite well.”
Mr Ford says he visits the Industrial Roal rink most nights but wasn’t there on April 13, when Kiama couple, Maddie Dellosa and Amy Hudson, both 20, departed the venue distressed and angry.
The business was inundated with abuse after the pair took to social media claiming they were unfairly ejected for kissing one another in view of an offended parent, who complained to management.
Debate raged on the likely extent of the pair’s public display of affection at the family-friendly event, and whether they would have piqued the parent’s interest if they weren’t a same-sex couple.
The then-owners, Lee and Danny Fanning, have never publicly commented on the incident. CCTV vision captured on the night has not been publicly released.
Mr Ford said he was saddened when he learned of the venue’s closure via social media.
“I thought it was not a bad opportunity, as a business, if I can make a move and try and buy it, but it was pretty disheartening to see it closed down,” he said. “The nearest rink is almost an hour away, in Narellan.”
Mr Ford said the couple at the centre of the controversy was welcome to return – “everyone is welcome at the rink”.
On the question of public displays of affection at the site, he says: “We welcome people on dates. We have people that meet on Tinder meet [in person] at the rink and that’s exciting for them. But it’s a skating venue – nothing more or less. There are little kids around and it’s a family venue. People can behave as they would expect to behave with any other venue”.
The rink offers open skate sessions on Wednesday and Friday nights, and on weekends, with sessions costing $10-$15.