Editor’s Note: This story is part of the annual Mosaic Journalism Workshop An intensive two-week course in journalism, for Bay Area high school students. Students involved in the program report and photograph real stories under the guidance of professional journalists.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Aloha Roller Rink at Astridge Center put its skates on shelves and became a venue used to save lives.
Liz Ruiz, who owned and operated the Aloha Roller Rink for six years, said she felt helpless since the lockdown began in March 2020. “At times I had to take loans to take loans against my retirement while waiting for the government funds to come in. through,” Ruiz said.
When Santa Clara County approached him about turning his site into a vaccination center this year, he had the opportunity to help the community. “If I’m not allowed to use my building, I’m not allowed to open up, then I can’t think of a better way to use this building,” she said.
Roller skating has been of great importance in Ruiz’s life. “It was what I did for fun, it was my hobby, it was my sport,” said Ruiz, who skates in San Jose.
“Preserving skating for the community” was one of his main goals during the pandemic, when his business faced the threat of closure. “Aloha was going to close, but it was a trend for us to lose these very valuable places,” she said.
Aloha takes its name from a popular roller skating rink in South San Jose that opened in the 1970s and closed in 2014, when it was known as San Jose Skate. The nostalgia that some adults associate with the name Aloha is something Ruiz hopes to protect. “Bringing back the Aloha name, and helping that kind of soul survive was important to me,” she said.
Ruiz also took advantage of the lockdown to work on a pandemic project: a blacklit mini golf course that was ready when California announced the reopening of businesses in June.
Ruiz continues to follow COVID-19 regulations to ensure the safety of its employees and skaters. “Originally we essentially opened with masks, but then allowed people to not wear masks if they wanted to show proof of vaccination,” Ruiz said. But after the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, there is a need for masks again and she is waiting until conditions are safe for other facilities like birthday parties to resume.
“I would rather be overly cautious than just backtrack to lock us up again,” Ruiz said. She appreciates her regular customers, who are willing to follow any precautions to guarantee the Aloha Roller Rink stays open.
Until recently, people of all ages were at the rink – from teenagers to young children to adults. Ruiz has seen an increase in the number of teen subscribers, partly attributing the popularity to the roller skating trend on TikTok.
“Customers,” she said, “are our biggest marketing allies.”
Lupita Fernandez García is a rising senior at the Latino College Preparatory Academy in San Jose.