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The Empire Roller Skating Center, A Place that Matters

empire roller skating center brooklyn new york sign

Before the Empire became one of New York City’s best loved roller rinks, it was a parking garage for Ebbets Field. The Swanson family opened the rink in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 1941, and until the late 1990s the rink was family owned. Then, the nationwide chain United Skates of America took it over, and now, very unfortunately, the rink has been sold. It’s next life? Probably a storage facility. We are extremely sad to report that the Empire is closing. Its last day is April 23rd.

What makes the Empire special? Its giant size for one: 220’ long by 60’ wide; 30,000 s.f.; room for over 1000 skaters at a time. The floor is high-quality maple; the sound system has always been the best. The skaters made it legendary too. One was Bill Butler, who in the 1960s & ‘70s helped turn roller skating into roller dance. “You can always tell an Empire skater by the way they bounce,” said one longtime DJ.

The Empire was an affordable, welcoming, fun place to skate. Generations of New Yorkers, skaters from all over the region, and skaters of every ethnic and economic group, found a place there. It will be sorely missed. Even worse, the Empire was the last functioning, purpose-built roller rink in the five boroughs. There is no substitute. Khadijah Shaheed, who nominated the Empire to the Census of Places that Matter, said, “If the Empire shut down, a lot of skaters would stop skating.” It will likely take some very creative matching of private resources and public figures to bring roller skating back to the city, but it would be a great thing to do.