Roller skating brought Stephanie and Brian Rawlins to Jasper.
The owners of The Jasper Skate Palace ended up here through a series of connected encounters in roller skating rinks across the state. The couple met while working at United Skates of America in Indianapolis.
Stephanie’s brother got her a job there as a hostess for parties and events. Brian managed the rink. The two hit it off and began dating.
Eventually, Brian planned a special trip to Evansville over a Valentine’s Day weekend that included a stop at the Vincennes Rollerdome on the way down. “We stopped to go skating and happened to run into the manager,” Stephanie said.
They talked with the manager a bit before continuing down to Evansville where Brian completed his special mission with a marriage proposal. Then, on the way back home, the newly engaged couple got a call from the manager at the Rollerdome to see if they could stop back by.
When they arrived, the manager asked if they would like to buy the rink. According to Stephanie, she knew that Brian, an accountant by trade, had always wanted to own an entertainment facility of some sort.
“This was truly his baby, truly his dream,” she said.
In 1995, they became a newlywed couple and partners in The Vincennes Rollerdome.
Then around 2003, the couple visited The Jasper Skate Palace. “We had two kids by then and when you are a rink owner, you go skating with your kids everywhere,” she said.
They met up with the owners who said they were ready to get out of the business. They asked if the Rawlinses were interested in purchasing the rink that had been open in Jasper since 1978.
“We took a leap of faith and ended up running both rinks (Vincennes and Jasper) for two years,” Stephanie said.
Eventually, the two locations became too much to handle and the couple pulled up stakes and planted themselves in Jasper. The Jasper Skate Palace has never been lucrative enough to support Stephanie and Brian so they both have full-time jobs. In fact, the skating rink doesn’t really make them any money. “We joke that Indiana law says if you do something for seven years and you don’t make any money at it, it’s a hobby,” she laughed.
It is truly a labor of love for the couple. It is about providing a space for young people to hang out in and have a fantastic time.
There’s an energy in kids and teens that comes alive in the skating rink. “You have kids who might be coming in and they’ve kind of had a bad day or whatever and they put on those skates,” Stephanie explained, “and they start skating around to the music and hearing everything that’s going on…”
They have their regulars. With the limited number of places for teens to go in Dubois County, The Skate Palace becomes a place of refuge for teens that don’t do movies or cruising around on Friday nights.
“You know that these kids have nowhere else to go,” Stephanie said. “Because the skating rink is where they fit in.”
The Rawlinses love being there for them. They get to be part of the teenagers’ lives and it’s beautiful. “The energy that’s there on a Friday night when the lights are going and you’ve got 80 to a 100 kids on skates going around and you’ve got another 20 up talking to you and getting candy. You feel like you’re 16 again because they don’t look at you like you’re 50,” Stephanie said. “You’re a skating rink owner. You are awesome.”
“I get to see a window into what the future can be for these kids, and they’re good kids.”
Plus, they get to see the future.
“It makes you smile because they show us so much potential for our future,” she added. “I get to see a window into what the future can be for these kids, and they’re good kids.”
2020 was supposed to be a great year for The Jasper Skate Palace. In years past, they have averaged about 125 people on a good night. In January and February of this year, they were averaging 220 to 250 on Friday nights — what they consider New Year’s Eve numbers.
“Gosh, we were thinking that we were going to be able to get some upgrades in the place,” Stephanie said.
During that busy time, Chad Huckelby, who had worked at the skating rink all through high school, was in with his family and noticed how overwhelmed they seemed. The 32-year-old met up with Stephanie and told her he could help out. She took him up on the offer and brought him back on to replace a manager who had left to attend college.
Unfortunately, those busy nights ended in March when everything was shut down.
“You would never imagine that the government could just take your business away from you,” Stephanie said adding that they didn’t realize how much they would miss the skating rink since it closed.
Everything stopped and weeks turned into months as the state struggled to figure out how to contain the coronavirus. Local businesses suffered, five have shut down and another is preparing to close due to lack of product from suppliers.
“We were kinda in that mode where we took a breath and said we were going to make it. We had a couple of good weekends in March, we’ll be able to open back up in a couple of weeks,” Stephanie explained their thinking at the time.
Then in May when they filed their monthly tax revenue report with the state, they had to write a big zero in the line for revenue for the month.
“That was hard,” she said.
Just to have the skating rink sitting there ready for skaters to come in costs the Rawlinses about $7,000 a month not counting heating and cooling. In the summer, add $3,000 to that number for air conditioning. Fortunately, in the winter, the hundreds of 98.6-degree heaters skating around the rink keep the place warm.
Now, things are different. The harsh reality is that the business has lost about $20,000 during the shutdown.
Two weeks ago, their staff of teenagers volunteered to help get the Palace ready for reopening. It was fantastic to see the love their employees have for the business but then that reopening got delayed.
It was another setback and a continuation of the dire financial challenges the business is facing.
For Chad Huckelby, the Rawlinses were an important part of his teenage years. He viewed them as more than just employers; at 16 the Rawlins took him in and treated him like one of their own children.
He didn’t want to see the skating rink close and had to do something. So, he met with them with an idea his wife, Amber, had suggested.
“Chad started off saying we taught him how to be an employee and that he wouldn’t be who he is today without us,” Stephanie said. “He spoke about how important roller skating had been to him and how he always felt safe here. It was pretty powerful.”
He then explained how Jasper Papa John’s was going to host a fundraiser for the skate rink. Next weekend, June 19 through June 20, a dollar from every pizza sold from the Jasper location will go to support The Jasper Skate Palace.
According to Chad, it took about 15 minutes to get the approval for the fundraiser. He brought the idea his store manager in Jasper and after a quick phone call to the owners in Jeffersonville, the deal was done.
“They do a lot to support this community,” Chad said admitting that it was unusual for a for-profit business to help another for-profit business in this way.
Stephanie agreed that it was a unicorn-deal. Papa Johns won’t be able to take a tax deduction on these donations since it isn’t to a nonprofit or charity.
Additionally, Amber has set up a donation site for those wanting to donate directly. That site is available here.
“You know words can’t express the heartwarming feelings all of this has brought on,” Stephanie said about the donations going to the GoFundMe page as well as the comments and fond memories being shared about the skating rink.
The rink reopens tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m. and will operate from 7 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays for the foreseeable future.
While this is all uplifting in the moment, Stephanie and Brian are concerned about the future. Summer is their slowest time of the year with July being the slowest month. And they wonder what could happen in September, October and November if the coronavirus numbers begin to ramp up again forcing another shutdown.
For now, they are going to do their best to keep things moving forward and take care of their community of skaters and employees. It’s an important mission for them.
Who else is going to do it? Who else loves this enough to work 40 plus hours a week and then come in on the weekends to ensure there’s a place to go for kids and families?
‘It’s hard when you think about how many skating rinks have gone out of business and just stopped operating over the years,” Stephanie said. “You know nobody’s going to buy a skating rink right now. I mean who’s going to give up their evenings and weekends to raise teenagers.”
The Rawlins have done it for more than 30 years and want to keep doing it with the community’s help.