Skaters Relive the Good Times
Residents reminisce about United Skates
If reality television shows were around in the 1970s, the highest ratings would probably go to a program revolving around the United Skates of America, Inc. Roller Skating Rink in the West Belt Mall of the Willowbrook Shopping Center.
Gang fights in the parking lot, teenage make out sessions in the "penalty box," and unsupervised overnight skating marathons.
"It was all in good fun," said Tommy Kosh, a Little Falls resident who met his wife Eileen during a couple's skate at the rink. "It was a great atmosphere. A lot of great people, it was a great place to grow up. It kept us off the street. It was a big family – everybody knew each other. It was a home away from home."
Kosh said the rink was always packed, especially on weekends. The lines would wrap around the building. There was a disco nightclub next door to the rink called Night Moves and a drive-in theatre across the highway. Kosh remembers watching "Grease" while waiting in line to go into the rink.
Kosh didn't mind the long lines. He skated four or five nights a week. He was there all day on Saturdays and Sundays. He got a job working at the rink to support his skating habit. Working at the rink ensured him perks like free food and skating.
Each night offered something special for skaters. Monday nights were family nights; Wednesday nights were Whacky Wednesdays: Skaters would get in free if they came with a roll of toilet paper. Friday nights were rock nights, but Kosh said disco music was the best to skate to.
"Disco had a better tempo," he said.
Kosh got kicked out of the rink one time for throwing a sneaker around like it was a football – while on roller skates. Kosh had no ride home and skated down Route 46. He grabbed on to the back of a truck and held on until he was almost home. Then he jumped onto the grass to stop himself.
"There was no way my skate brakes were going to stop me," Kosh said.
But all the good times came to an end when the rink closed in the mid-1980s. It came as a shock to everyone because it happened so suddenly.
"It was like an anthill getting run over by a car," said Wayne resident Jay Rapp. "No 'farewell skate.' We kind of knew that it was going to happen, but not like that."
Rapp still enjoys skating, but things have changed. Now instead of disco, house music is played in the rinks.
"I like it now because it's physically active," Rapp said. "We leave the rink on a Saturday night and I'm drenched in sweat."
Rob Cusmano of Sayreville was also a part of the skating magic. He keeps the essence of roller mania alive by organizing skating reunions every year at a rink in South Amboy. The reunions are not only for people who were fans of the rink in Wayne, but other rinks in New Jersey that have closed down.
"The perception is that it's a dying art," he said. "I don't think it's a thing that has died. Not having a rink, that was the problem."