Even before owner Virginia Clark of Buffalo learned that she had won a $5,000 Love a Local Business grant in January 2010, she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support expressed by the 973 fans who nominated her business.
Now, one year after receiving that influx of cash, we spoke to Clark about how she, her husband, and their partner William Shylo created Xtreme Wheels Indoor Skate Park, the largest, most popular recreation area in Western New York State, and the impact the grant has had on their business.
ISBB: How did you think up the idea for this business?
Clark: We bought this gigantic castle-style structure in 1999. It was a beautiful turn-of-the-century brick building – built in 1899 and finished in 1901 – which at one time was the largest malting company in the U.S. Then, for two years, we didn’t know what to do with the space. It was smelly, wet, and filled with rodents.
Robert, my partner and now husband, said, “We can turn that huge room into an indoor skate park and call it Xtreme Wheels.” I replied, “If I can get an SBA loan, I can run the business.” Seven years later, we’ve turned it into Western New York’s largest indoor skate park.
Are people surprised that a woman co-owns an indoor skate park?
Yes, it’s a very male-dominated field. Many are also impressed with our modern re-use of the building. The whole building was for grain sorting with several hundred thousand square feet. The arena for the skate park section is 30,000 square feet.
How did you originally get into this business? Did you ice skate or skateboard growing up?
As a kid, I ice skated a bit locally in Buffalo. In 2002, I spent months on the Internet to see what people in areas like mine liked to do and decided to do something similar. Now, I can tell by my web traffic that others are interested in what we’ve created.
Tell our readers about your skate park.
We host in-line skating, BMXing, skateboarding, and scootering. We have a ramp area that’s partially a street course and partially a vert course. We have a gallery area, a game room, and a retail center to sell skates, shirts, helmets, BMX parts, scooter parts, and skateboards. We’re actually the #1 scooter competition destination in the U.S.
Any other uses?
We also use the skate park for all-ages concerts, hosting MTV bands and others because it’s the largest drug- and alcohol-free venue in the area. They all come here to perform. This weekend, 500 kids are coming here for a rock concert. In fact, we’ve given many local bands their first opportunity to perform live. They play obnoxiously loud music and people skate to it. They couldn’t be happier, and I wear my earplugs.
What potential do you see for skateboarding to help kids?
It gives kids a place to go. More importantly, it gives them a chance to make friends with others who they normally would never meet. It’s wonderful to see unexpected friendships forming. We have kids who come here from Ohio, Pennsylvania, all across Western NY, Toronto, and other Canadian cities.
What would you say to a kid who wanted to become a pro skater?
They all want to become pro skaters. One of our local customers, Katie Ketchum, just finished third in the Asian X Games and performed with Cirque du Soleil. We have another young man, Dan Barnes, who skates on the flow team for Razor Skate.
What would you say to a pro skater who wanted to help kids?
They often visit us spontaneously and volunteer to help the kids. Someone helped them and they’re all too happy to pass on the torch.
Do you attract any celebrities?
Dave Chappelle came to Buffalo for a comedy show, and his agent called to say he wanted to skate, so we opened up in the middle of the night for him.
How do you create a sense of community or a personal connection with the kids at your skate park?
It’s such a variety of ways. Because of our years of ownership, we’ve created a huge following. We also have a summer camp program for younger children.
Our Grom Club, short for Grommet, is usually open on the first or second Saturday of the month from 9:30am to noon, before the park opens to the public. Every kid 13 or younger gets free food, drinks, prizes, and skating. The last prize, the booby prize, is always very special. We usually get 80 to 100 kids.
Recently, we did a helmet education awareness program with a local hospital. We had doctors fit the kids for helmets and talk to them about the importance of always wearing one. We’ve been open seven years and we’ve only had a few medical emergencies.
How did the Intuit $5,000 Love A Local Business grant help your business?
I was in shock when we got the call. When the check came, I first took my husband out for a nice dinner. Then, we invested the money in our indoor skate park by building new ramps and obstacles for the courses, replaced some of the two layers of plywood flooring, coated it with masonite, bought 2x4s and 4x6s, buckets of screws which aren’t cheap, and basically gave our skate park a face lift. We still have the sticker on our arena door and every time we come in, we’re reminded of the Intuit Love A Local Business grant.