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One Last Skate

Franconia Roller Rink hangs up skates after 33 years.

On the final weekend at the Franconia Roller Rink, skaters performed their favorite roller skating tricks one last time. They launched into single and double pattern, “crazy legs,” “drop the bomb,” “eagle spread,” “toe jam” and “shoot the duck.” Legs were flying, wheels scraping and smiles flashing as everyone strutted their stuff on roller skates.

“You’re getting a lot of exercise, but you don’t know it,” said Tylor Hewette, 15, a Lee High School student. “We know everybody here.”

Alexandria resident Sharon Foster, 35, strapped on a pair of skates just to let loose one final time.

“I love it here, it reminds you of your childhood,” Foster said.

But as the skates glided across the wood floor, the feeling was in the air that the skaters' rink days were limited. After 33 years, the rink closed its doors, making way for a new tenant, “Shadow Land,” and a new breed of entertainment that centers on lasers and technology. Monday, Jan. 16, was the last day for the skating rink.

Manager Charles Lowe was at the helm since the rink opened in 1973. “Monday’s going to be the last day,” Lowe said. “The kids these days have so many things to do today.” When the skating rink opened, choices were limited for a Saturday night. “Skating, bowling, movies,” said Lowe. “That’s all there was to do before,” he said. In recent years, roller skating took a back seat to computer games, laser tag, soccer leagues and competitive cheerleading, to name a few.

Shadow Land Laser Adventure Centers are described on their Web site as “family entertainment/corporate training facilities that use Darklight technology developed in London.” Players enter a “gothic style arena,” decked out in suits with infrared detectors, radio links, and LCD readouts. Shadow Land currently has centers located in Columbia, Md., Gaithersburg, Md. and Chantilly.

BUT LOWE remembered the good old days at the rink. “We had Cher in here way back when,” he said. “We had a 1,000 people that night, you couldn’t even move.” That was in the 1970s when roller derby was popular. Years later, “Tipper Gore had a birthday party,” Lowe said. It was wall to wall limos out in the parking lot.

Local skaters Dennis and Lisa Ray even met at the rink and later married. “I was trying to date her friend. She was looking at me with these big eyes,” Dennis Ray said. This was 1982 when he worked at Fort Belvoir and moonlighted at the rink. Both worked on and off at the rink through the years too and now their kids were skating on the same worn wood floors.

“This is like an icon, it’s hard to take,” Dennis Ray said.

But in the Franconia, Alexandria area, skating was the thing to do for a number of years. “Anybody that grew up in this area has been here,” Lisa Ray said.

Lowe remembered a number of couples that had met at the rink. He rattled off a list. “Kim and Paul, Janie and Jimmy, Paul and Angie ... there were at least 10,” said Lowe.

“It’s gonna be missed,” said Dennis Ray. “It was more or less a dating scene.”

Lisa Ray compared the rink to the Frozen Dairy Bar in Falls Church, or the Vienna Inn — both old staples on the Northern Virginia landscape. She reiterated her husband’s analogy. “It’s an icon,” she said.

Lowe helps manage three remaining roller rinks in the region, in Pasadena, Laurel and Seabrook, Md. Other rinks under different management are still operating in Manassas and Stafford too.

Sharon Foster, 35, doesn’t care if she has to travel to skate. “You just can’t stop rollerskating, you go further out,” she said.

The word on the rink closing was getting out to all the skaters in the area, and the weekend was ripe for reminiscing. Springfield resident Mike Cherry, was on top of the social strata for the final days. “Whoever is in town, is definitely coming up here,” he said.

Ray remembers being the skateguard when Cherry was a teenager, and blew his whistle at him a few times. Now Cherry’s son Michael, 4, donned a pair of skates. “He’s hooked on it now, so I guess I’ll be going to Stafford, or Manassas.”

Springfield resident Danny Klinkert got in a last skate session with his daughters Danielle, 8; Delaney, 5; and Dianna, 4. The girls dressed like Pippy Longstocking, a favorite literary character. “It’s a shame it’s closing down, we were coming here every Wednesday night,” Klinkert said.