It’s kind of like stepping back in time: The slick maple floors and spinning lights, the sounds of the “Hokey Pokey” and beginners’ rickety orange wheels slapping the solid burgundy carpet, and, what’s that smell? Redolent of antiquity, it’s the musty, nostalgic aroma of your adolescence. “It hasn’t changed since I was a kid,” patrons exclaim. That used to bother Chuck Connor. It actually takes much money and work to keep White Rock Skate Center looking and feeling exactly as it did in the ’70s. But now the statement, uttered by some 30- or 40-something daily, just makes him grin. Connor, who hasn’t missed a day of work in about 40 years, has made the place what it is. He is the Sultan of Skate, the Roller King, the Lord of the Rink, and he rules his kingdom with austerity and compassion.
This place hasn’t changed since I was a kid!
Yes, people say that to me every day, and it used to kind of upset me. I’d think, “Hey, I just paid so-and-so dollars to have new carpet or lighting installed!” I update every couple of years. But now I know, it is just the way they remember it from their childhood.
The music is a big part of the ambiance here. How has it changed?
Well, there are these cool things called computers and iTunes now! They didn’t have that when I started out as a DJ — we had reel-to-reel and turntables.
You started here as a DJ?
Yes, my dad built the place in 1973, and I was in grad school and I worked here as a DJ.
I assume you weren’t in grad school for roller rink management. What were your plans?
I got a master’s degree in counseling, and I went to work for the Dallas County Community College District. Running the rink wasn’t in my plans, but at one point, my dad tired of operations and decided to sell. Around the time I was working in administration more, and less with students. And what I really wanted to do was work with people. So, my dad and I struck up a deal.
You’ve been here, every open day, ever since?
Haven’t missed a day of work in 39 years. I will use the days we are closed to travel on short vacations. I did go on my honeymoon when I was 28, but my dad was still here at that time; it was before I took over.
Is your family now highly involved in the business?
My wife used to be around all the time, basically lived here. My daughter, Leslie, who recently graduated from college, works here part-time now. She had her first gig here when she was about 4 or 5 years old. We paid her a dollar to hand out fliers. I still remember her first pair of tiny purple skates.
Will Leslie take over someday?
I don’t think so. I care about her too much to do that to her [Leslie is listening and they both laugh].
I had friends in high school who worked for you. Does your staff still comprise mostly high school students?
Mostly. We have a few college kids. Most of them are from Lake Highlands, Lakehill, Bryan Adams. We’ve had a couple from Woodrow. I have a wall of photos in the office of all the kids who have worked here. You can point to any picture, and I can tell you a story about them [he proves it by doing so; he hasn’t forgotten a name or a face]. We even had a staff reunion in 2003 and about 125 former employees showed up. It was wonderful. Some of their spouses thought they were crazy, traveling to a reunion of a place they worked for in high school, but many of them worked here and were together four or five years and coming back was almost like a high school reunion. When I started out, I thought it would be the kids who come to skate that I would enjoy the most, but as much as I care about them, it’s really the staff that has been the best part.
Everyone seems very happy, but you must have to be stern sometimes in order to keep the teens working for you and the kids (and parents) skating here in line, right?
We have strict rules, and they apply to everyone. As my father told me, what you do for one, you must do for all.
You proved this by not allowing me in the money machine.
Only on your birthday.
In orientation, we make sure the staff knows the seriousness of everything from safety on the rink to cleanliness of the uniform. Usually by the time they start working here, I know them and I know their families because they have been coming here to skate. As for the skaters, we sometimes have to tell them to slow down or change a shirt that has profane words on it. Some parents get upset if their child doesn’t win the race or the limbo contest, and we just say OK and keep the rules the same for everyone. And, it doesn’t happen often, maybe one in a million, a kid breaks a rule — steals or fights — and when that happens, they are out.
For good? No exceptions?
For good and no exceptions. I’ll bring them in here [his office] and they’ll look up there [security monitors] and they will know, if they did something wrong, like steal something from a locker, they are caught.
What’s your best memory here?
Oh! That is too hard to answer. Oh, but there was something great recently. I have a picture of it in here somewhere … A guy came in, and right there, right in front of the money machine, he went down on one knee and asked his girlfriend to marry him. It was an impressive and beautiful moment. That’s the only proposal, but many people have told me they have met their husbands or wives or ex-husbands or ex-wives here.
Must be that couples skate. So, I bet people recognize you outside of the rink, huh?
Yes. A lot of times I’ll catch them looking at me trying to figure it out. I’ll say, “I know where you know me from!” The only way I can truly get away is to hit the road on one of my mini vacations — once, though, when I was in Hot Springs, someone was staring at me and they finally say, “You’re the skating rink guy!”