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At 31st and Hennepin, the mod couches and dining tables once displayed at an Uptown home-furnishing store have been replaced by a boutique roller rink. And, along with it, peanut butter.

More precisely, "peanut-butter boogie," a term that skating coach Rahn Oz uses to describe the mindset of the freewheeling sport. "Because the moves are all the same, you have to adapt them to your personality," he explains. "And you've got to make it look smooth."

At the unlikely venue's recent grand opening, dozens of skaters were doing just that, gliding smoothly across the polished concrete floor. The space looks nothing like the vintage roller rinks built decades ago: those massive, windowless arenas with their glossy hardwood floors, wobbly legged newbies clinging to the wall, and neon-carpeted concession areas.

Instead, the room was surrounded by glass, with a minimalist, industrial-chic aesthetic. (Skaters had to dodge steel columns padded with foam.) But there were lights and music and a disco ball. And plenty of peanut butter. Hips swayed and knees bounced to the beat of Prince and Whitney Houston, while Oz balanced on his front two wheels and spun for nearly 20 seconds, like a human top.

Rahn Oz, a roller skating coach and choreographer, shows off his custom skates, with faux fur, a “Thundercats” logo, and lights. “With roller skating, you have to be loose for people to believe the moves.”
Rahn Oz, a roller skating coach and choreographer, shows off his custom skates, with faux fur, a “Thundercats” logo, and lights. “With roller skating, you have to be loose for people to believe the moves.”

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

The new Twin Cities Skaters Studio is the brick-and-mortar hub for a traveling roller-skate event business launched in 2020 by local four-wheeled enthusiast James Adams.

Adams says roller skating can be a form of creative expression, liberating, therapeutic and connecting. He hopes that bringing open-skating sessions, lessons and other roller-related activities to the heart of the city will make the sport more accessible. Especially to people with lower incomes, and those who didn't grow up around skating.

Creatively reusing the empty, vandal-attracting building also benefits a neighborhood blighted by shuttered storefronts. Adams' zeal has re-energized both a place and an activity thought by many to be past their prime.

Though roller skating has been around forever — the wheeled boots were invented in the 1700s in Europe — interest has ebbed and flowed. In the United States, roller skating had its heyday in the 1930s to the '50s, and again in the 1970s and '80s. Skating's popularity had been slowly declining until the pandemic spurred those sheltering in place to revive old hobbies and start new ones.

TikTok videos helped fuel its resurgence. In February, it hit the global stage with Usher's show-stopping, four-wheeled Super Bowl halftime performance. But even though the pop star wore Minnesota-made Riedell skates, the state's roller-skate community has been hit by the same economic forces that have shuttered so many of the old-school arenas nationwide. With the metro's two remaining roller rinks in suburban Burnsville and Coon Rapids, TCS Studio aims to bring the sport to the people.

"One of our slogans is to make America skate again," Adams says.

Mackenzie Sheppard dances while roller skating at TCS Studio, which has been outfitted with lights and a sound system.
Mackenzie Sheppard dances while roller skating at TCS Studio, which has been outfitted with lights and a sound system.

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

Mobile roller-rink

When Adams, 36, was a kid, he grew up rollerblading and roller skating at Roller Garden in St. Louis Park. He picked up the sport again in his 20s, to rehab what playing college basketball had done to his knees. Wearing skates, Adams towers like a pine tree. But he somehow makes doing a cartwheel on four wheels look as effortless as walking.

In 2018, while working at a Minneapolis elementary school, Adams realized the weekly skate night held in the gym was sparsely attended. So he took the initiative to amass a stash of loaner roller skates and encouraged more families to come.

That skate collection came in handy when the pandemic hit. In the summer of 2020, with rinks shut down, a DJ friend suggested he and Adams put on a free, outdoor roller-skating event at Taft Park in Richfield. It was so popular that they repeated the sessions every week into the fall.

Soon other community organizations with large, skateable spaces — the YMCA, parks and rec departments, downtown councils — paid the two to host similar events. Adams realized he had a viable mobile roller-rink on his hands and named it Twin Cities Skaters (TCS).

The May 2021 closure of Roller Garden, the closest rink to the cities, devastated urban skaters. ("A piece of my heart," Adams said.) But Garden regulars migrated to TCS events and Adams ended up getting a bunch of the rink's rental skates, which built his collection to more than 400 pairs.

Soon TCS was hosting events all over the city, from breweries to Art-A-Whirl. A recent TCS skate night inside Minneapolis' City Center drew 500 people.

After Adams brought his roving roller rink to a winter pop-up event at Uptown's Seven Points mall, the landlord asked if he'd like to take over the CB2 space. (The store departed in 2022, in anticipation of the building's redevelopment.)

TCS still has plenty of public and private pop-up events planned for summer, including gigs at Rice Park in St. Paul, the Commons in Minneapolis, the Recreation Outdoor Center in St. Louis Park and Maple Grove's skate loop.

But the Uptown studio gives it a home base. In addition to open-skating sessions, lessons, rentals and maintenance services, Adams plans to offer more avant-garde activities, including roller fitness classes (to build core strength and balance) and skatearoki (wheeled karaoke). The entrepreneurial venture brings together elements of his "four resumes" (he's worked in education, the hospitality industry, as a handyman and personal trainer) and his extroverted personality.

He hopes that roller skating — a low-cost activity that requires relatively minimal gear — can be enjoyed by an even wider range of people. (TCS pop-ups are typically free; the studio's open skates cost $20, including rental.) While roller skating (and its rugby-like cousin roller derby) has played an important role in the Black and LGBTQ communities, Adams says he's also had success introducing it to newcomers at pop-ups, especially kids from immigrant groups that lack a skating culture. "They just love it," he said. "They've never seen anything like it."

Dave Wilhelmson and Shelly Ross roller skate at TCS Studio.
Dave Wilhelmson and Shelly Ross roller skate at TCS Studio.

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

Creating a community

Adams is also part of Twin Cities Skaters' performance trio, called Wheels of Expression, which has skated at the Aquatennial Parade, Mall of America and the Armory.

Oz, a fellow Wheels performer who teaches at TCS Studio, used to compete as a rhythmic roller skater his 20s. (Jumping and landing in a splits was his favorite move.) Now in his 40s, Oz says his reasons for skating haven't changed. "I would rather go out skating than go to a club or bar because I'm getting some exercise and I'm doing something that makes me feel good."

Amy Sacarelos, who attended the studio's opening, first laced up in the 1970s. After raising five kids, she dusted off her childhood skates in 2007 and became a Roller Garden regular.

Sacarelos now organizes a weekly meetup of "seasoned" skaters at Skateville in Burnsville. At 63, she remains undaunted by multiple injuries she's sustained while roller skating, drawn to the community it creates. And she hopes Adams' Uptown studio will build similar bonds. "It's a way to keep the generations going and to bring the younger ones in," she said.

Find more information at twincitiesskaters.com.Details about upcoming events are shared on TCS social channels and email list.

Tre Brown and Angel Even put on roller skates before taking to the floor.
Tre Brown and Angel Even put on roller skates before taking to the floor.

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune