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Derby United Headquarters Pivots In Pandemic

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Back in March Derby United Headquarters opened its outdoor, two-rink facility for roller derby bouts. The coronavirus pandemic soon forced it to close. But the organization has turned their skates in a new direction in order to reopen.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Derby United headquarters opened its outdoor two rink facility for roller Derby bouts in San Diego earlier this year. But a week after its grand opening, the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close KPBS arts reporter, Beth Armando, headed over for escape lesson to see how the organization is pivoting in the pandemic. She spoke at the outdoor rank with Derby United's owner and general manager nilly Goldfarb, better known by her Derby name as Isabel ringer.

Speaker 2: 00:30 So Isabelle, last time I spoke to you, you were just about to have the grand opening of Derby United and that was back in March. So what's been happening here.

Speaker 3: 00:41 We did have our grand opening and it was amazing ribbon cutting. Our council member was here. Folks from the planning office were here. We had a huge celebration. Hundreds of folks came out for roller Derby game and a week later we closed for the pandemic and we stayed closed for a number of months. Once outdoor recreation was able to open, we started taking a good look at what we do out here and what we could do out here with the space and the resources we have. And that's what led to our reopen and a heavy focus on recreational rollers.

Speaker 2: 01:15 No, originally this was designed for you to have roller Derby bounds.

Speaker 3: 01:19 The facility was specialty designed to roller Derby tracks. We were out here training every night games, almost every weekend. Um, but one of our two roller Derby tracks is a super smooth concrete pad. That's just perfect for any kind of roller skating. So why let it go to waste? We can't play contact sports. We do some fitness training for roller Derby, but for the most part, it's a team sport we like to play together. So instead we started making a focus on what kind of recreational offerings could we put out there that would engage the community and our skaters and use the beautiful concrete pad that we have.

Speaker 2: 02:00 So what kind of classes or lessons can people take here? Now

Speaker 3: 02:04 We have a wide range of offering from really little kid glasses. We call little rollers to adults who are opening their very first pair of skates and need to learn to roller skate or more experienced folks who want to learn things like jam and freestyle and dance that can come out and really hone their skills and feel good on their skates.

Speaker 2: 02:24 Now this was a facility that you put together. It took a lot of work. So what is it like trying to pivot during this pandemic?

Speaker 3: 02:36 I'm not going to lie. It's been really hard. We built this place to have big roller Derby programs. It works on volume and here we are saying, okay, we're going to have 12 people per class in a limited time slot with online reservation. And so we see so many less people per day, we're able to host no events. And so it's just a different situation. It's taken a lot of work, um, both with the new safety plan in place and a new financial plan in place to be able to get to the other side of this. We are a tiny business, uh, and we just don't have the resources to be able to not be in business for a year or longer.

Speaker 2: 03:24 Part of what Derby United is about is this sense of kind of empowerment for young girls, especially and for women. And how is that carrying over into kind of this skate lesson and, and you know, more recreational stuff

Speaker 3: 03:39 Dating, just like with Derby. We hope that when people come to this property, they're able to escape whatever's going on in the outside world and just spend some time focusing on themselves on roller skates. It's good for their physical health, their mental health, their emotional health. So we hope that when you come here, you get a break from that outside world. And that when you leave here, you feel ready to take on whatever comes next. We want to be the best part of anybody's day.

Speaker 2: 04:06 What kind of practices do you have in place to make sure that people stay safe with the pandemic going?

Speaker 3: 04:12 Absolutely. So we put a number of safety protocols in place. We are extremely fortunate to have an outdoor facility. So we are open air to start with. We do still require masks for everyone on the property. All of our activities are taking place six feet or more apart. We limit our class numbers. So even though we have 9,000 square feet of concrete pad, we still only have about 12 people per class, so that there's plenty of room for your own space and that you can feel like you're in a safe place. Even when you need to get a sip of water, we have a safety protocol in place for you to leave the rank area, take your mask off, have your own ventilation and water break, and then put it back on and go back out there.

Speaker 2: 04:53 I am going to partake in your class. And you were telling you that you had to search for a instructor for these classes. So who did you find

Speaker 3: 05:04 When we did this pivot to recreational skating, we really wanted to get folks inside that community coming out to instruct not just our folks from Derby. And so we found people from throughout the spectrum of roller skating today's instructor. Kara Lee is a figure skate coach by trade. She's been in ice forever and spent some time in roller. And she got really into roller skating during the pandemic. And a friend said, you know, this woman's fantastic. Why don't you talk to her? And we brought her out here and she was such a great fit for what we're doing. She teaches twice a week, teaches learn and return to skate. So either folks that are opening skates for the first time, or maybe it's been a few decades and they're returning to skate and she just does fantastic with these folks and just gets them right,

Speaker 2: 05:47 Rolling. So people should not be afraid to come out here and give this a try. If they either haven't been on skates or it's been like, you know, like you said, absolutely

Speaker 3: 05:58 No skating experiences needed. We have hundreds of pairs of roller skates. So even if you can't get your hands on a pair of roller skates right now, we have some that you can borrow with any class or session that you come here, please bring your own protective gear for beginners. I especially recommend at least wrist and knee pad and we'll teach everything from there.

Speaker 2: 06:18 And how has it been going now that you've opened up for a skate lesson?

Speaker 3: 06:22 When we started this reopen, we started really slowly. We wanted to make sure that we felt comfortable with the safety level, with the courses we were offering the price point, all of it. And for a few weeks, we tinkered with that. And once we set a schedule, we felt really happy with we just spread the word and we've just seen classes selling out, which has been fantastic. So we're seeing folks coming to these courses, getting a lot out of it, returning, coming back for open sessions, it's been really great.

Speaker 2: 06:48 So there's been a kind of a run on skate street.

Speaker 3: 06:51 There's been a massive revival of roller skating right now. So our good friends at Cincinnati skates who run the specialty, one of the specialty roller skate shops in town, they just fly off the shelves. They get a truckload in and a truckload blows out the door. You can't get your hands on roller skates. People are even scalping them on the internet.

Speaker 2: 07:09 And how is this plan working in terms of keeping the business going? Because it's obviously not the same kind of flow of people coming in. So are you going to be able to survive through this?

Speaker 3: 07:23 We are extremely resilient. We will survive through this no matter what. However, this still doesn't touch having hundreds of people for events every weekend. So we have these offerings and that helps, but it also takes a lot of creative, financial planning, a landlord who's willing to be flexible, taking on more debt, a lot of different programs that we're applying to. And we're going to have to piece that whole thing together to make it to the other side of this, but we will, we'll be here. All right. Well, I want to thank you very much. Thank you for being here. I'm so excited to see you. Rollerskate Derby United headquarters

Speaker 2: 07:59 There's is located on federal Boulevard in Encanto, and it's open for recreational use.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.