The skating floor at the Lynden Skateway on Saturday, Nov. 2. //Photo by Claire Ott
Nearly 800 roller skates and blades stack the shelves of Lynden Skateway, the only remaining skating rink in Whatcom County. The glow in the dark carpet embedded with patterns of roller skates leads to the wooden rink, waiting for fresh skates to glide over during the next lesson of the day. Brenda VanOrnum, the owner, stands behind the counter counting change and prepping skates while Terri Johnson, VanOrnum’s daughter and manager of Lynden Skateway, hustles to finish tasks before they open for the day.
Lynden Skateway, located in Lynden, opened in 1976 when VanOrnum and her husband, Pete VanOrnum, bought the property. They moved their family up from Olympia to follow their dream of owning a skating rink.
VanOrnum started skating competitively at the age of six and continued into her twenties. VanOrnum and her husband met at a skating rink and continued their shared passion for decades to come.
Johnson shares her mother’s love for skating. She started skating when she was a toddler and hasn’t stopped since. Johnson and VanOrnum continue to pass down the family legacy to their children. They even made toddler-sized skates for Johnson’s daughter so she could skate from an early age, VanOrnum said.
“We’re a family-run business and we pretty much want to keep it like that,” VanOrnum said. “A very family-oriented business, you don’t see those very often anymore.”
Tiny pink and purple skates sitting on the counter for display mark the growth of Johnson’s daughter’s skating career as well as the history of the skating rink.
The couple started working and coaching at skating rinks in the South Puget Sound area before moving up to Lynden. At the time, the business was a roller rink and bowling alley, called Lynden Skateway and Bowl, that had been operating since 1946.
In August of 1994, the original Lynden Skateway and Bowl burned down after a fire. According to Johnson, it is believed a cleaning machine was left on, and a mix of chemicals combusting and hot weather most likely triggered the fire.
However, VanOrnum and her husband rebuilt the rink on the same property nearly two years later in 1996. They looked at other potential properties in the area but decided to rebuild on the same land.
“Everybody knew this as the property of Skateway, so we needed to stay here,” VanOrnum said.
VanOrnum said the bowling alley was not rebuilt, only the skating rink because that is what she and her husband enjoyed the most. She said since there are other bowling alleys in the county, it made sense to just have a roller rink.
According to VanOrnum, rebuilding the roller rink took a lot of time and energy. It took six to eight months before the family could start building the rink. It also became very costly to rebuild the business from scratch. People from the local skate club donated their time to help put in the new wood floor.
Since a new wood floor would be too expensive, the VanOrnum family re-used wood from since shut-down skating rinks throughout the region to build their new floor. The same wood floor is still skated on by beginners, like Johnson’s daughter, to experts, like the Bellingham Roller Betties. Shelves, counters and tables were also donated from other rinks that went out of business.
Even years after the fire, the family still has support from skating rink regulars, such as the Bellingham Roller Betties, that helped install a new glow-in-the-dark carpet that reflects the neon lights and disco ball hanging over the rink.
For the past 10 years, VanOrnum and Johnson have also been purchasing skates from roller rinks that have gone out of business to build their collection with better skates. They also sell skates, such as Riedell and Crazy Skates, in hopes to find the perfect pair for each person and encourage them to skate more, according to VanOrnum.
Besides VanOrnum and Johnson, there are around 10 staff members at Lynden Skateway. According to Johnson, some have worked there for a while and have become like family.
Employee Katrina Williams started working there with her sister almost two years ago. Williams had never skated before working at the roller rink but enjoys it when she has free time.
“[Lynden Skateway] bridges the gap between older generations and younger because a lot of times people will come here and be like, ‘oh, I haven’t been skating in years,’” Williams said.
Williams said a great place for children to spend time at the rinks is at their after school skate, which takes place on Tuesdays from 3:30 -5:30 p.m.. Johnson said they will occasionally donate gift cards to local schools for fundraisers.
“For schools that support us we usually support them somehow,” Johnson said.
Lynden Skateway has many events throughout each month that are open to the public, such as Friday night skate, discount nights and GLOW Skate. Private rentals are also available for those who wish to hold a birthday party or small group skating party, VanOrnum said.
The roller rink is also hosting a monthly adult skate, a themed night of roller skating for people 21 and up. October is the first time in five years the event has been hosted and they will have a DJ, Johnson said. The next adult skate will take place on Nov. 30.
While the skating rink is a place for families to go have fun, VanOrnum also said it is very hard to run a business. From cleaning the floors to maintaining the skates and snack bar, VanOrnum and Johnson are constantly on the clock. Johnson is also the one who teaches all the skating lessons, so either VanOrnum or Johnson are always at the rink, VanOrnum said.
“They don’t see all the hours we put in to make this a good place,” VanOrnum said.
According to VanOrnum, it is getting harder to run the business due to the rise of minimum wage. However, they’re hanging in there and hope they can continue to stay in the community.
VanOrnum said roller skating is one of the few activities everyone in the family can participate in. In many sports, parents can only watch their kids, but skating allows them to participate instead of just watching.
“It’s a good family activity,” VanOrnum said.
While the family business has its ups and downs, they continue to roll into new decades with the same passion. Skaters of all ages are welcome to participate in all the events and lessons Lynden Skateway has to offer.