The opening of Bristol Skateway in September 2018 was the realization of a long-held dream for the Bristol community and neighboring cities as much as for its owner-operators Gary Easmunt and partner Debbie Williams.
Easmunt and Williams first learned of the property in 2016, a neglected rink that operated for four decades before it closed and fell into disrepair. The asking price was out of reach, so they watched and waited from Bradenton, Florida where they were making their home at the time.
The Team That Skates Together
The dream they shared to make their mark as roller rink owners began long before that. They first met at Skaters Choice in New Jersey where Williams had taken her three children for an outing. She noticed Gary, the skating coach, right away and admired his talent in the rink and ease working with children.
They quickly discovered their mutual passion for roller skating – both had been competitive skaters and coaches – and began working together. Eventually, they decided to try their hands at rink ownership.
As veterans of the roller rink industry and skating competitions, Williams and Easmunt have touched every aspect of the business between them. After starting as a patron and competitor, Williams became a coach, then entered management, of the snack bar first, then the office, and later, overall operations as a general manager. Easmunt grew up in the rink and in skating competitions, starting in the Diaper Division at age four, worked as a floor guard, then as a coach and rink DJ, and later became assistant manager, then a general manager.
Williams teases, “He used to be my boss. Now I’m his!”
They first made the leap into ownership in 1996 when they bought and ran De Queen Super Skate in De Queen, Arkansas. Since then, they have successfully owned and operated rinks around the country and remained in the industry continuously.
Roller Rink Revival
Williams and Easmunt credit their focus on the core business of roller skating and purist approach to patron experience for their early success in Bristol. They have seen other owners fail when they attempted to make roller skating one of many activities in an “entertainment center” model with hands-off owners. Williams and Easmunt favor an approach that plays to nostalgia, boasts a meticulous facility and a hands-on role where they interact with guests as entertainers and hosts.
When you step into Bristol Skateway, you’ll find Williams behind the snack bar cooking – her favorite part of the business – and Easmunt in the DJ booth or out on the rink leading activities.
“There’s not a session that goes by that people don’t thank us for opening,” said Easmunt. “We don’t see this as a business where you just throw open the doors. This is a place where people have made memories – lost their first teeth, shared their first kiss, met their spouses. It’s part of the community. We don’t lose sight of that.”
When they posted on the former rink’s defunct Facebook page they bought the property, they were greeted with 55,000 hits, and a steady stream of business once they opened the doors.
That mutual affection between the business and the community fueled the work it took for Williams and Easmunt to open the doors to Bristol Skateway.
That’s What It’s All About
The first challenge they faced was funding. Their patience had paid off, and the asking price had dropped considerably. During that time, they had lined up business partners and investors Patti Enstrom and Jennifer and Grant Showalter. But bank financing to purchase and rehabilitate the property escaped their reach, and they were declined for loans three times.
Their luck turned with the third time they were declined for a loan, and their lender at Highlands Union, who really believed in the project, referred them to Pathway Lending.
“It was like night and day working with Pathway versus some of our earlier experiences,” said Easmunt. “We had to have our act together to provide the documentation they required – that was the hard part. But the experience was positive, and we’ll never forget receiving the call from our lanai in Florida and learning our vision would become a reality.”
Soon after, they were in Bristol starting a complete and demanding transformation of the property. Before they could begin construction, Williams and Easmunt meticulously removed every piece of carpet and washed every inch of the massive 27,600 square foot structure to clean up water damage from sprinkler heads that burst while the building sat empty. They also resurfaced the parking lot, installed a new hardwood rink and new carpet in the common areas, enlarged the kitchen, repainted all the surfaces and started replacing all the ceiling tiles.
The effort paid off when the doors to Bristol Skateway opened. Williams and Easmunt work tirelessly to host patrons, run the business and continue making improvements. They have welcomed award-winning skating coach Paul Hinton, a long-time friend and colleague, making Bristol Skateway one of only a few in the country to host a full-time coach on staff. They constantly reimagine favorite roller rink traditions and plan to start physical fitness for adults, noting that roller skating burns 600 calories an hour. And they are installing a mini rink for beginner skaters.
“It’s nonstop – you have to put your whole self into the business. And it’s worth it,” says Easmunt, adding, “If you have knowledge and passion for what you do, reach out to Pathway. They’ll come through.”
Learn more about how Pathway Lending can become a partner in the success of your small business with our small business loans.