PALATINE, Ill. (CBS) — Walk into the Orbit Skate Center and not much has changed over the course of 40 years. A sound system that used to blare the thumping beat of disco, now routinely plays hip hop, rap and the latest pop favorites.
But musical tastes aside, little has changed at the Orbit Skate Center in Palatine since it first opened in 1972.
“The rink has been here for 40 years this year,” said Manager Jodi Neff. Her family has owned the place for over 20 years. “We are on our fourth generation of kids skating here.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports
Neff says part of Orbit’s appeal is nostalgia. Over the years, history replays itself with one generation to the next.
“We see a lot of grandparents who skated here with their kids, and their grandkids and it’s just awesome.
Parents, who themselves had come here nearly a lifetime ago to skate, celebrate birthdays or discover first love, sit nearby, watching as their children do the same.
“Its really neat having parents come to say I used to skate here when I was 12.”
Diane Deutsch is a floor guard dressed as a referee. It’s her job to insure safety and stop any potential riff raff.
“I make sure no one falls and gets hurt. I stop kids from doing things they aren’t supposed to be doing. Most kids learn to skate really quickly,” she said. “It gives them balance, it gives them cardio, it’s really good.”
And while much of the competition closed up shop long ago, Neff says the Orbit remains a popular place.
“Right now we draw people from Wisconsin, from Rockford, from Indiana that come every weekend just to skate here” And not many rinks have huge half acre wood floors for endless go arounds.
“We have the biggest rink floor in the Midwest, it’s a half acre, 20 thousand square feet.We have 40 foot ceilings so it’s just a different atmosphere”
“For some it’s their first time, and it’s fun and their trying,” said Lisa Hood, camp counselor for the Highland Park Park District, who brought her group for a day of roller skating.
“It goes along with keeping their body moving, keeping them active, working up an appetite for some healthy food. Gross motor skills are important for these kids.”
Neff agrees and says skating is healthy for kids and still remains a safe place for young people on a Friday night.
“The kids that do get dropped off, the parents know that their safe, we don’t let them leave until their parents pick them up,” she said.
The giant neon sign high above the rink simply says ORBIT, a name synonymous with memories, friendship and even young love. Neff hopes it remains as a beacon for generations to come.
“It’s still a good, clean, fun sport,” she said.
The Orbit is one of a few roller rinks remain scattered throughout Chicago and the suburbs.
In addition to the Orbit, at 615 S. Consumers Ave. in Palatine, the Fleetwood Roller rink at 7231 S. Archer Ave. in Summit remains in operation. The Rink Fitness Factory also continues on at 1122 E. 87th St., and the Martin Luther King Jr. Park Family and Entertainment Center, at 1219 W. 76th St., also includes a roller rink.
But overall, roller rinks are a dying breed. The popular Rainbo roller rink at 4812 N. Clark St. across from St. Boniface Cemetery closed in 2003 and was demolished shortly afterward. Also gone are the Swank Roller Rink at 111th Street and Western Avenue, the Hub at 4510 N. Harlem Ave. – which featured its own Wurlitzer pipe organ.
The roller rink at the Riverview amusement park, at Western and Belmont avenues, even survived for about four years after the amusement park closed in 1967. But that roller rink – located close to the current site of the DeVry University campus – burned to the ground in 1971.
For prices and hours at the Orbit, you can log onto orbitskate.net.