Roller Garden rolls to a stop

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Andrew Lyons

The Roller Garden’s signature green dinosaur smiles at skaters before the rink closes this weekend.

After 52 years, Roller Garden is closing its doors. The roller rink located in St. Louis Park officially closes May 8 due to COVID-19 setbacks and the current owners’ need for retirement.

Roller Garden’s general manager and daughter of the current owners, Kim Swenson, explained the reason for the rink’s closure. “The owners are in their late 70s early 80s, and they’re ready to retire; they’re still working full time right now, and we have to have all of the family members working to be able to keep it going,” Swenson said.

Retirement was not the sole reason for the close; the global pandemic also played a crucial part. COVID-19 introduced many new regulations that affected businesses around the world, and Roller Garden was also impacted by these regulations. “The capacity limits… being shut down 5 out of the last 12 months took a toll, and [we’re] having trouble finding staff,” Swenson said.

This is a place where people can come in and forget about all the problems of the world, just let it roll off their shoulders. It didn’t matter what race, what nationality, what age, you know any of that, sexual orientation, none of it mattered. Inside the Roller Garden, everybody is just a skater.”

— Kim Swenson

Roller Garden’s closing was not unexpected, though. Swenson and her family have discussed shutting it down for years. “We knew it was coming; I mean we’ve talked about it on and off for a few years, wasn’t quite the right time, but we slowly worked our way there,” Swenson said.

Roller Garden is sad about closing, but it is a necessary advancement for the family. “It’s going to be hard to let go, but at the same time, it’s the point where we’re at in our lives. It’s going to be missed just tremendously,” Swenson said.

The building won’t just sit abandoned, instead, a Kenwood Gymnastics Center will be purchasing the property. The Roller Garden expressed its hopes to the purchaser of maintaining its rink. “Kenwood Gymnastics Center … is purchasing the facility … They’re going to keep the skating floor, putting their gymnastic equipment on top of that and such––they’re loving it and not tearing it down. That was hugely important to us,” Swenson said.

Settled on Lake Street right off of Minnetonka Boulevard, the Roller Garden’s dome-like building stands out among the other facades. The green dinosaur on the front of the building is iconic. Jessica Stoeffen, a regular skater at the Roller Garden for more than 15 years, has witnessed its influence on St Louis Park. “I think it’s going to be really sad, I think it’s been a fixture here for so long that it has become a really important part of the community,” Stoeffen said.

Skaters roll their way around the rink. (Andrew Lyons)

Since the current owners have run the Roller Garden for 52 years, they have seen skaters change and evolve. Shutting down emboldened its skaters to share their lasting memories with Swenson and her family. “There are so many thousands of people that come to the Roller Garden, and the Roller Garden impacts peoples lives so much, more so than we ever knew. So when we started shutting down and people were sharing their stories, but to not have that here for them,” Swenson said.

The Roller Garden means a lot more to its skaters than just a rink to skate around. Many of the Roller Garden’s skaters have been rolling their wheels there since they were children. And some skaters have returned to re-experience their childhood memories. “It was just a safe place always growing up … I spent every weekend in here, every Saturday from 9 in the morning to 3 p.m. I did roller skating lessons, so it was just a big deal growing up,” Susan Shaw, long-time skater, said.

For many, the Roller Garden was a safe-haven; a place to skate where inclusion was a policy. At the Roller Garden, everyone was welcomed. “This is a place where people can come in and forget about all the problems of the world, just let it roll off their shoulders. It didn’t matter what race, what nationality, what age, you know any of that, sexual orientation, none of it mattered. Inside the Roller Garden, everybody is just a skater,” Swenson said.

The Roller Garden loves its skaters and wants to express its final thanks. “Thank you. Sincere thank you,” Swenson said.