Color washed over the waxed skating rink floor as a lone discoball slowly spun, shooting colorful light across the smooth floor.
“Oh boy, this is my favorite part,” owner Roger Lloyd said as he turned to an employee. “Alright Junior, now turn on track 89.”
Music poured over the smooth floor, washing over the expanded ceiling still in place from when the rink was a movie theater. Stringed lights and glowing wall decorations slowly followed suit, accompanying Lloyd’s favorite skate song.
Carman Roller Skating Rink opened its doors for the first time in 1932. Lloyd is the second owner since its original creation. As a mailman, security guard, substitute teacher and manager, it wasn’t unusual for Lloyd to find himself needing work for only a few weeks back in the ‘70s.
“I was only 13 years old and I would walk down the avenue to come skating,” Lloyd said. “I looked up and said, ‘Oh Lord, one day … one day I want to own this place.’”
The once-romanticised building quickly began to lose its magic for Lloyd once it became a hotspot for drugs and violence, he said. Lloyd recalled a manager selling drugs through the ticket window.
A string of luck and a little bit of faith put Lloyd in a position to eventually buy the place in hopes of cleaning it up. The self-proclaimed man of faith believes a lot of his fortune is that of a greater power.
“I must have talked to every representative, vice-president, loan officer and teller in Philadelphia,” said Lloyd. “When I finally signed the biggest stack of papers I have ever seen, I got the keys and paid off the loans just two years later.”
“People get complacent with God,” Lloyd added. “Sometimes they don’t realize he puts you through tough times so you remember you can call on him whenever you need him.”
The strength he vicariously lived through has persevered through more than just financial woes. A broken heater, a failing economy, a drug infested neighborhood and a year in the Vietnam War tested his willpower.
Coming back from his stint in the war, he knew that purchasing the rink would be his medium to spread his faith. With that in mind, he started the Gospel Rolling Skating in 1983. The impromptu group was set in place to bring his two passions together.
However, the first few attempts only produced five familiar faces.
“That third night, I had said a little prayer,” Lloyd said. “I said, ‘Lord. I want to do this your way, but I need your help.’ I came out the door and looked down the hall and found 20 people wanting to skate … I said ‘Thank you Lord.’”
Lloyd said word spread quickly and the club was a hit. Friends and family were constantly filling up the rink to make this unlikely combination – faith and skating.
“I had ministries calling me asking ‘Why are my kids bringing their skates to church? Do you really skate from 1 [p.m.] to 5 [p.m.]?’” Lloyd said. “My response was ‘Yes they do.’”
Other events like the ‘Who can skate from 8 to 8?’ marathon helped keep the rink financially stable and involved with the community. This was important to Lloyd, as this was also the neighborhood he lived in. He recalls many nights breaking up gang fights only to come out to busted windshields.
“We used to roll out a red carpet for the kids,” Lloyd said. “They used to fly right through the door with their skates on, pop right onto the rink.”
“These are the kinds of things the kids never forget,” he added. “These are some of their favorite memories.”
While shaping the childhood of his customers, Lloyd was also busy making his fondest memories. His investment in a stretch limousine not only added a bit of class to his already popular birthday parties, but turned out to be an integral part of developing a working mother’s dream.
“I had a young lady, she was 65 years old and all her kids skated here,” Lloyd said. “One of her kids came up to me and said ‘I want to do something nice for my mother but I don’t have a lot of money.’ I looked at him and knew I had the perfect thing for her.”
Lloyd set up a reservation at a restaurant and planned on taking the mother and the eight kids out for a night on the town. He recalls waiting at the door when the mother came down the stairs and yelled out, ‘Now where’s your car at boy?’”
The son pointed out the window at the limousine and said, “Mom … here is your car, right here.”
“She started crying,” Lloyd said. “This is a woman who worked all her life taking care of her kids, just trying to make it.”
The night moved on with dinner, flowers and a ride around the city. Once home, the mother pointed at Lloyd and told the kids to go inside so she could “talk to this man.”
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh Lord, now what?’” Lloyd said. “She came up and hugged me and said, ‘In my 65 years, this is the best thing that has ever happened to me.’”
“I’d have given it to her for nothing,” Lloyd said with tears in his eyes. “Cause that … is priceless.”
Patrick McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org