Tonight, Wednesday, is the last night that Great Skates in Bangor, the only roller rink for more than 100 miles, will be open, with the “Final Roll” set for 6 to 11 p.m at the facility on Sylvan Road, just off Hogan Road. On Thursday, the neon lights, the shoe spray and the disco ball will be put away, after more than 20 years of operation.
The only roller rinks that are left in the state are now Happy Wheels in Portland (the last remaining Happy Wheels location, which Maine Roller Derby is trying to buy), Rollodrome in Auburn, Roller World in Topsham and Melody Roller Rink in Caribou.
Great Skates owner Tom Ellis announced the closure more than a year ago, saying he wanted to give skating fans plenty of time to enjoy the facility before he shut it down. He said the reasons for closing were totally economic.
“Well, the building is 20 years old and the property needs a lot of upgrades,” said Ellis, in a 2015 BDN interview, citing the need to overhaul the parking lot, the exterior, the interior, the laser tag arena, the sound system and lighting, among other things.
“And the roller skating industry is in a decline and has been for over 10 years,” he continued.
Though Ellis attributes the decline in the industry to children and teens being more interested in video games and social media than in roller skating, in years past, the Bangor area was host to several roller rinks, including Happy Wheels in Brewer, which closed in the mid-1990s, and Skate Scene, located off Broadway in Bangor, which closed in 2000. Beyond the Bangor area, there were many more roller rinks, with Happy Wheels outposts all over Maine and more beyond that, from Bar Harbor to Houlton to Kittery. For a time, roller skating was an incredibly popular after school activity for young people statewide.
As a kid, I remember going to Skate Scene with the Waldo County YMCA or with my middle school on “positive reinforcement” field trips. I am not a very good roller skater, so I would make a couple of half-hearted passes around the rink, and then retire to the arcade, where I would play Street Fighter and The Simpsons and eat raw cookie dough from the snack bar (this was the 90s, before people cared about children) until it was time to leave.
Great Skates opened in 1995, after Happy Wheels closed, and at that time it was the nicest roller rink most people in Maine had ever seen, with cool neon colors, a bumpin’ sound system, fun decorations on the walls and the excellent bonus of laser tag, in house. It was among a flurry of mid-90s development throughout the mall area — as I wrote in a blog post a few weeks ago, it was things like Bugaboo Creek, the Bangor Mall expansion and Great Skates that made Bangor seem super fancy to a kid from the sticks. Now, of course, much of that 90s development is in decline, from Bangor Mall stores to restaurants like Bugaboo, to, now, Great Skates.
It’s ironic that the roller skating industry has been in a decline, considering the fact that the sport of roller derby has surged in popularity over the past decade, with the Bangor area boasting two leagues (Bangor Roller Derby and Central Maine Roller Derby), and with at least four other leagues active and popular from Portland to Presque Isle. Bangor’s leagues hold bouts at the Skehan Recreation Center in Hampden and at the Cross Insurance Center, however, and hosting events at a place like Great Skates — with far less room for spectators — just isn’t feasible.
Will you be at Great Skates tonight, to take one last spin around the rink? If you plan to be, we’d love to see photos or video. Let us know! And watch this video, shot last April by the BDN’s Ashley Conti.