ToquiNotes: After Thousands of Memories and Smiles, Official "Last Skate" for Skate World Patrons on Tap

By Jeff Toquinto on July 01, 2017 from ToquiNotes via

Back in March of 1981, a little place opened off of what was then Route 73, but today is known as Route 131. It was, and still remains, just a bit outside of Bridgeport’s city limits.
Much like the Pete Dye Golf Club, just about everyone says it’s in Bridgeport. And if you’re a city resident, city official or someone tasked with promoting Bridgeport, saying that Skate World is in Bridgeport certainly isn’t a bad thing.
For 36 years, the place has been the breeding ground for smiles. It’s also been the place where memories have been made and almost all of those memories – go ahead and ask around – have been positive.
Today, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in fact, the last three hours of this iconic business under its current ownership and perhaps as a skating rink will be held, according to Jan McNemar. McNemar is the daughter to the equally iconic Walter Lanham.
If you went to Skate World after Lanham acquired the business from David Arnett, you probably know who he is even if you don’t recognize the name. Walter Lanham was the one who very possibly helped you learn how to skate and most definitely was the one you remembered wearing the referees shirt.
That look of Lanham’s was as much a trademark as the business situated at the end of Long Street as it was for creating smiles. You can safely say they were intertwined.
I bring all of this up because, as most of you know from the advertisement Homefinders Plus ran on our Facebook page last week, Lanham has put the building and property up for sale. While the advertisements by Homefinders always seem to draw interest when they list a property, this one exploded.
More than 50,000 Facebook views and hundreds of shares of the post led to dozens of comments. Here’s the thing (and for anyone that deals with social media knows that this is an anomaly), not a single comment was downright nasty; most were completely positive. That, in and of itself in this digital world of today, shows just how special a place it is.
About the only thing wrong in the comments was those that said last Saturday was the final day. But, if you are reading this before 5 p.m. today, understand completely that as mentioned above the official “last skate” is today.
The good news? It’s free.
“We would like to see some people come out and talk to my father. I really think he’d enjoy that,” said McNemar.
There’s no doubt in my mind Walter Lanham would enjoy it. The 81-year-old isn’t selling because of his age – far from it. Rather, like many, it’s not making money like it used to.
“We were running low on funds. We weren’t making enough money to take care of everything so we decided to sell,” said Lanham. “We’ve talked about it for a while and it wasn’t an easy decision to make.”
McNemar agreed.
“This has been hard on all of us,” she said.
The reason for that is simple. Walter Lanham likes people and he loves watching youngster learn how to skate and the smiles that result.
As I talked with him earlier this week, I told him that I was one of the youngsters that went there – almost every Thursday and Saturday night in the early 1980s prior to him acquiring. We would usually load up in the van of Sherri Matheny’s mother and she’d haul a boatload of us out the skating rink.
I loved the calls of “all skate,” the loud music, the “last skate” of the evening and even “couples skate.” He laughed when I told him I sat out more of the couples’ skates than I participated in. For Walter Lanham, it’s been about laughter and fun all these years.
“Oh, it’s been very good to our family and it’s been very good to our hearts, particularly to see little kids having so much fun and learning to skate,” said Lanham. “Today, there’s not a lot of places for kids to go and have a good time.”
Of course, there’s not a lot of kids that aren’t glued to a cell phone, tablet or some other device as opposed to playing, or skating, full throttle like we used to. With the building for sale, Lanham said he’s worried that the new buyer won’t use the building as a skating rink.
“I’m hopeful that will be the case because it’s still an outlet for kids and there aren’t a lot of those anymore or skating rinks for that matter. There definitely aren’t a lot of skating rinks the size of ours,” said Lanham.
Lanham isn’t exaggerating. According to the listing agent, Jennifer Schellenberg, the building itself is 22,000 square feet. The lot, she said, is 1.76 acres.
“That’s probably one of the biggest skating rinks in the state. If someone want to buy it for that purpose, it’s in a nostalgic condition and needs a little bit of upgrades, but it’s got a lot of life left,” she said. “I’ve been kind of surprised, but at the same time not as surprised, as how many people have already contacted me about the building.”
Lanham is aware that the size of the building lends itself to many other uses. He said one person that approached him last Saturday said “this would make a great warehouse.” Maybe it would. Personally, even though I haven’t been in several years since my own daughter, nieces and nephews have graduated high school and most from college, I’d like to see it maintain its original use.
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee. Once it’s purchased, the new owner will decide.
“I’m hopeful the new owner will keep it and make it look really nice,” said Lanham. “I just know that I won’t have any say over what goes there next. I’ve let myself become okay with that.”
Lanham said some adults will miss the place too. He said one “middle-aged regular” comes every single week to skate around.
“She’s so graceful; nothing fancy. I’m going to miss her and I’m going to miss a whole lot of others too,” Lanham said.
You can bet a lot of folks will miss him and if Skate World becomes a thing of the past, they’ll miss the business too. And he and his daughter said he expects today to be emotional. When asked if this past Saturday got too him and made him cry a bit, he just laughed.
“Not that anyone could see I hope,” Lanham chuckled. “We had a pretty good crowd. I’d like to see it one more time.”
No matter what happens, even if the building is demolished, the memories will remain. Walter Lanham’s shirt will be etched on the minds of thousands of kids that he likely taught to skate and there were likely tens of thousands that recall his building as a favorable piece of nostalgia.
That’s not too bad of a thing to have your name associated with.
“I see kids out on the streets and they holler at me. They remember me from the rink. That makes it all family,” said Lanham. “It’s hard to say goodbye or even think how to end it the right way.”
I’ll end it with a thanks from the entire region. And don’t worry about the final words.
“Last skate.” It’s official this time.
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in acquiring the building, or looking over the details of what’s for sale, click HERE. Top photo shows Walter Lanham modeling his well-known Skate World "referee" gear, while the bottom photos shows the building and the inside of the structure.

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