ASHLAND One of Ashland's institutions is coming back.

Garden Roller Rink will reopen on Friday, Dec. 3, with some changes and some familiar features, owner David Roy said, owner of Skateland of Campbell's Creek in Charleston, West Virginia.

Although he's not an Ashland native or resident ("I'd never spent one night of my life in Kentucky until I started sleeping at the rink," Roy said), he's a longtime skater and friend of Bill Franz, the previous owner, who died last year from complications of COVID-19. The rink opened in the 1970s under the ownership of Kenneth Franz, his father.

Roy said he met Franz when he was a teen and working at Skateland; his boss took workers to other skating rinks and a visit to Ashland allowed him to meet Franz and they developed a lifelong friendship. They would eventually call each other to discuss business, too.

"When I got a driver's license, well, every boy wants to travel and meet girls," Roy said. "It was just 80 miles from where I lived."

Roy said it wasn't unusual to find him at the rink — in Charleston or Ashland.

"I was a rink rat, which is not a bad thing," he said. "A rink rat is at term of endearment for somebody's who's always at a rink."

He enjoyed hockey and speed skating, but the first time he tired in-line skates was at Garden.

"I could ice-skate, so I thought it would be fine," Roy said, recalling the first two laps went well enough. "On the third lap, I crashed and nearly went out the door. It was summer and it was hot and the door was open."

Roy said the rink was in good condition, but he's still working on it.

"I call it putting lipstick on a pig, which is not a bad thing," he said. "We had no major changes to the facility. We put down some carpet and we cleaned everything and wiped down everything and painted a lot. ... We got some lights working that hadn't worked in 15 years."

One change Roy said he expects to be unpopular: the gumball machines have been removed.

"We scraped more than a 5-gallon bucket full of gum out from under the tables and the snack bar counter," he said. "Gum also is a choking hazard. It's hard to remove gum from a choking person, even using the Heimlich maneuver.”

He said the scheduling of parties will be different, allowing more breaks for staff. He said other changes, such as additional hours of operation, theme nights and school fundraisers, are likely on the horizon.

Although Roy lives in Charleston, he's spent time in the area working on the rink with the help of Ashland resident John Elliott, who also had an important relationship with Franz.

"I've been at the rink for a long time. It is a big part of my life," he said. "Bill was not only a friend to me, but a second dad. I've learned so much from him."

Roy agreed.

"My main concern was to open the rink for the kids," he said. "I've got to keep Bill's memory alive and I want to keep the kids safe and off the street and keep the rink around for many, many more years to come."

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Garden Roller Rink will reopen on Dec. 3. The rink will be open from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Saturday also will include an open session from 1 to 6 p.m., with party reservations available. Admission will be $8. The rink is at 5656 U.S. 60 in Ashland.

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