As a place to get some exercise, enjoy the old fashioned icons around the rink or indulge in some ice cream at the Coney Express attached to the building, Guptill’s Arena has inspired fond memories in Capital District residents for the past 60 years.
Through Sunday, Feb. 27, the skating rink will be offering a free pass for skaters to return the following weekend as a thank you to all those who have contributed to the success of Guptill’s.
We just feel we owe that to all of the people who have supported us all these years, said owner Skip Guptill, 70. `Families really appreciate in this economy when you give back like that. It’s a wonderful gesture.`
One fan of the rink, and a 30-year employee, 49-year-old Tom Moore, recalls the first time he came to the rink to skate on a Saturday night.
`I was 18 years old, and I came in here to skate one night,` he said. `And it was so packed I wasn’t even able to come in the front door. So I walked out saying, ‘Next week, I’m going to make it a point to skate here. Came back the next week, I skated once, I started hanging out here and within a month, I was hired here and I’ve been here ever since.`
It was 1981 and Moore said it was a time when the disco age was heading out and the hair metal bands were becoming popular. Moore at one point served as a DJ and said the rink once had a laser light show.
He went through the different eras of music, as the ’90s brought rock music and heavy techno, going into pop and then a mixture of all the genres of music.
`As the people change, the music changes,` he said. `But everybody’s got their place in time.`
Guptill said he’s proud the arena has been able to hold up over the past six decades, weathering economic hardships and acting as a piece of nostalgia for the entire town of Colonie. He recalled how his father first built the arena on his own back in 1951.
`My father built the arena, and it was all done the hard way,` he said. `He cut down all the wood and brought it to the saw mill. It means so much to our family because we know how hard it was to build it back 60 years ago.`
Since it first opened, Guptill said he remembers the transition from roller skates to roller blades, how all of the boys would try and impress girls with their roller skating skills and that some couples even married after meeting at the rink.
`Every time a pretty girl would come to Guptill’s, my father gave her a free pass,` Guptill said. `Then my mother would ask why, and he would say, ‘For every pretty girl, that brings five guys.`
So what is it that has contributed to the success of the skating rink?
Guptill said the rink is the very definition of Americana because he has not changed anything about it over the years. He has left all of the classic cars that surround the rink. Every summer there is a car show at the rink, attracting thousands of people. There also host other events, such as company Christmas parties, because the arena can hold up to 6,000 people.
There is still a stage in the back of the building, and while it isn’t used anymore, it used to host concerts in the ’50s for acts such as Jay and the Americans and Bobby Goldsboro.
Still the biggest draw, Guptill said, is their world-famous skating rink, which was awarded the honor of being the largest skating rink in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in the sports edition in the 1970s.
`The main floor of the arena is maybe a little bigger than the main floor of the Times Union,` Guptill said. `When you think of someone, a farmer, building something like this and so big, and to have the foresight to build in Latham 60 years ago is unprecedented.`
His father died of heart failure in 1974, before the rink received the award.
Exercise is another reason Guptill believes people keep coming back to the arena as it takes nine times around the rink for it to equal out to be a mile.
`The average skater skates 26 miles in an evening,` he said. `It’s from here to Saratoga. There’s no better exercise than that in a three-hour session.`
One regular skater has been coming to the rink since she was 14. Now in her 40’s, Tina Marino comes to the rink as a form of exercise, bringing her own MP3 player.
At one point, it was the music that kept her coming back to Guptill’s, and then she started coming back when her son turned 2 and her daughter was 12.
`With a lot of the people, you make a lot of friends here,` she said. `I just always loved skating. It comes in spurts. You’ll go for 10 years, and then I won’t go for awhile. And then you get that inkling, ‘Hey, I wonder if anything has really changed?’`
She said her mom, who is now 70 and used to go to Guptill’s when she was a teenager, once came with her to the skating rink just to see what the rink looking like since she was last there.
`She said, ‘You know what? It looks exactly the same,’` she said. `I think it’s pretty cool that they have kept everything the same.`
And the process is starting all over again, with Evan Witty, 6, who said he enjoys roller skating for a different reason.
`I like going fast,` he said.
Then there are 13-year-old Mya Dorin, Clifton Park and Meghan Loudon, 14, who are newcomers to Guptill’s. While Dorin has been to the arena a couple of times before, Loudon said it was her first time roller skating.
Dorin said she comes to Guptill’s because she said it is fun to hang out with her friends while skating.
`It’s pretty popular, and a lot of people have heard about it,` she said, `[Skating] is a fun pastime and a really fun hobby.`
While roller skating can be a fun hobby for some, for others they are getting prepared for a different sport.
Avid skiers will also come to the rink for training, as roller skating works out the same muscles as going down the slopes. So before the winter season rolls around, Guptill said he sees a lot of people training before heading to the mountains.
Guptill keeps bringing up the fact the skating rink has survived through 12 presidents, and joked that it has outlived most people.
While Moore said he learned to skate at Guptill’s, he’s not able to do it as much as he used to. So on Thursday nights, he makes sure to come in to keep up on his skating skills.
Moore said he doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon, and said that if it is possible, he’d like to work there for another 30 years.
`It’s been a lot of memories being built here,` he said. `It’s an icon; 60 years. We’re in the Guinness Book of World Records. You mention Guptill’s and you think of roller skating. There is no other.`
Now Guptill’s three boys have a hand in running the arena and performing the day-to-day operations, but Guptill says he is still there frequently. He is excited to be celebrating 60 years and said having a central location in Colonie has helped quite a bit.
`It’s a marvelous experience,` he said. `You’ll probably never see something like this in Colonie again.`