Test operator/entrepreneurs roll into skating rink business
March 14, 2012
When she was just 13, Jennifer Alpizar, in a video-taped interview, announced she would someday own and operate a roller skating rink.
Now, Alpizar and her sister, Jessica Gordon, both senior test operators at CECOM's Central Technical Support Facility at Fort Hood, Texas, have made Jennifer's teen prognostication come true.
They are now the official, signed-sealed-and-delivered, owner-operators of a brick and mortar skating rink in Temple, a small city located about 25 miles northeast of Fort Hood.
It was probably one of those things that was destined to happen.
According to Jennifer she might well have been born with wheels on her feet.
"I (roller) skated competitively from the time I was four," Jennifer recalled. "I spent my whole life competing."
Competition took Jennifer on the road. The road took Jennifer abroad.
And younger sister Jessica was right on her heels.
"We traveled everywhere together," Jennifer said.
When she won a national skating competition, Jessica was there. In 1989, when she won third place in world competition, Jessica was there, too.
Skating became contagious in the family, even when the sisters weren't on the road.
Their mother, Jennifer said, started working at their hometown rink, a place appropriately called Skateway, in Whitehall, a small town located in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley.
"Jessica's first job was there, and I worked there too. I taught…we all worked there together. Fun time," she said.
Jennifer taught skating in her teens into her twenties at various rinks. Her competitive days, however, came to a close with a career-ending injury.
Time passed, and Jessica joined the Army, where she met her husband, Doug Gordon, in Korea. Doug, by the way, is also one of the owners of what is now the family rink, and he's also currently working on the CTSF campus as a field service engineer with the Command Post of the Future (CPOF) system.
The Army -- and maybe fate -- brought Jessica to Fort Hood and the CTSF, where she noticed that the area was full of potential skating rink customers, many of them Soldiers and their families.
But skating rinks? Not so much.
It was just about then, when one sister was visiting the other, they watched the video-taped "someday I want to own a rink" interview. After that, fate led to some serious planning.
"Over the course of two years, we made it our goal to do this," Jennifer said.
They came up with a business plan. They researched and produced a marketing plan. They worked on securing funds with the Small Business Administration. They hired a consultant whose specialty was skating rink operation.
About a year ago, the sisters and their spouses -- by that point, Jennifer's husband, Alberto, had become involved in the project -- discovered a skating rink for sale just a few miles west of Fort Hood.
"But after several months of research," Jennifer said, "we determined that it just wouldn't work out."
Then, the sisters turned to the Temple area, where they found Skate Haven.
"The original owner, Stanley White, who opened the rink in July of 1969, was ready to retire. So (our wanting to buy the business) worked out well for him, and well for us," she said.
On March 31, Jennifer and Jessica and their respective spouses became the owner-operators of their very own skating establishment.
"We started running the business as Skate Haven, because Mr. White has tons of school parties and events lined up," Jennifer said. "But on June 20, closed and started renovations involving a complete interior and exterior redo, and new rentals (skates)."
The renovations included expansion of the existing snack bar, expansion of the snack bar menu, the addition of café seating for parents and family members, and an enlarged arcade area.
One of the more noticeable facets of the renovation was the rink's new name.
"We changed the name to Wheels Skating Center," Jennifer added.
"That's Phase One of two phases. Phase Two will be done next summer. We're going to expand so we can offer party rooms," she said.
Jennifer staged a grand opening ceremony for Wheels in August.
"The mayor of Temple was there, and we made it a retirement ceremony for Mr. White. It was awesome," she said.
So, on nights and weekends, the sisters are living what began as Jennifer's dream, and became that of Jessica and the two husbands.
"We're now doing birthday parties, all kinds of fund-raisers. We also have a roller derby team," she said.
But does running Wheels mean retirement from the CTSF?
"Nope," Jennifer said.
"We're staying at the CTSF."
And that is how they are planning to roll.