In 1971, Charles Connor approached his three children for business advice. Connor was a partner in Markham and Brown Company, which built levees, and he had decided to sell his ownership in the business. "He said, 'I need to reinvest the money. Do you want a car wash or a skating rink?" says his daughter-in-law Laura Connor.
The result of that conversation was White Rock Skate Center, one of Dallas' most popular roller skating rinks, which opened for business in '73 and will close on Oct. 16. Although the rink changed hands in '80, it always stayed in the family. Charles Connor, who died in 2005, sold it to his only son, Charles Connor Jr.
"Chuck" Connor and his wife Laura have operated White Rock Skate Center since then, but this summer they sold the property so they could retire. "He's 66 and I'm 60, and we’re just ready to travel," Laura says.
The rink quickly became a Lake Highlands institution, and has remained such even as Laura says it went through its ups and downs. Connor Sr. had owned White Rock Skate Center through "its disco days," she says, and when that era ended "it lost its luster for a while."
However, it bounced back in the '90s with the popularity of inline skating. In recent years, people who bring their own roller blades have made up about half of White Rock Skate Center's's visitors.
When the Lake Highlands Advocate broke the news that the rink would be closing last weekend, the post was quickly spread on Facebook by saddened fans. "People are already coming in asking to take pictures," Laura says.
Many people grew up attending birthday parties at White Rock Skate Center and later returned with their children, amazed by how the place seemingly hadn't changed since the day it opened.
It's still decorated with a disco ball and paper lanterns; there's still a money tornado where hopeful kids can grab for coupons and cash swirling in the air; and its DJ booth — where the Ghostbusters theme is sure to be played on your visit — and concession and locker areas are charmingly outdated.
But according to Laura, the perception that the rink has gone without improvements is incorrect, and the comments were initially frustrating. "Chuck would say, 'I’d make this change or I’d get these lights and I’d put in new carpet and nobody would notice.' They would say, 'This place hasn’t changed at all,'" she says.
But over time the Connor family began to realize that observation was meant as a compliment. For many skaters a visit to the rink was a nostalgic one, and they enjoyed the idea of taking a trip back in time to their childhoods.
"This is the hardest decision we’ve ever made in our life," Laura says of selling the rink. "Especially for Chuck it will be an adjustment. He is there almost every day — if there’s a public session or a party. I don't know what he’s going to do staying home."
The Connors are as sad to say goodbye to their employees as the skaters who've called the rink home for the last 43 years.
"The children that we have employed have told [Chuck] what work ethics they have received from him and how the job really shaped them for their adulthood," she says. "We usually hire them around 14 and they stay with us till college graduation. It has worked great as a schedule to go to school and work for us. Right now we have great employees who have worked together for so long. They make the place run."
The Connors would like to help them find new jobs before the 16th. "We’ve got some great employees that we can give you," Laura says.
White Rock Skate Center also had a major impact on Laura and Chuck's only child, Leslie. She grew up at the rink in between classes at Lake Highlands High School (and later Texas Tech University, where she majored in business with a dance minor), and now she roller skates professionally for Disney and Universal Studios in Florida. "It has been her entire life," Laura says.
One rumor about the sale of White Rock Skate Center suggested that HEB had purchased the rink, but Laura says that misinformation stems from the fact that the Minyard Sun Fresh Market next door has been bought by the San Antonio-based grocery store chain, which is in the process of expanding to Dallas. She is not sure what their property will be used for, but she knows that it will no longer be a skating rink.
As to where Laura and Chuck Connor will be traveling in their retirement, they have quite a few plans in mind, but their first stop is Florida to visit Leslie, who just made the dance squad for the Orlando Solar Bears, an ice hockey team.
"Our plan is to go stay with her for a while," Laura says. "And then we have family up in the D.C. and Boston areas who we’d like to go visit."
White Rock Skate Center was booked for parties through January at the time of the sale, but in order to complete it they had to agree to shutter the rink abruptly in October. "We had to call everybody we had booked and see if we could reschedule them [for earlier]," Laura says. "Some we couldn’t fulfill."
But even though the rink will be rushing to meet as many of its obligations in the next month as possible, it will also be open to the public throughout that time and Laura Connor encourages people who've made happy memories at White Rock Skate Center to stop by, even if it's extra busy. "We encourage everyone to have one last skate."
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