By William Smith
Kenny’s Roller Ranch — the skating rink that has helped define Burlington culture since 1928 — is up for sale.
However, owner and operator Tim Barraclough is not in a hurry to sell. He is the only full-time employee and overseeing the generations of children who skate there has been the joy of his life since he took it over in 1999.
“It isn’t that I don’t like it. It’s just time to move on,” he said. “Someone younger needs to come in and take it over. Someone who has the values that I have to keep it going.”
Barraclough put the property on the market several years ago. Although it is no longer listed in real estate advertisements, it is still for sale.
The property includes the nearby house where Barraclough lives, the miniature golf course behind the skating rink, and all the equipment and inventory, including the roller skates and the games.
“Everything in this building is mine. So you’re not sharing revenue with anybody. Everything that is here belongs to the rink. So when I do sell, it’s going to be a package,” he said.
Barraclough has only one condition. The new owner has to keep operating the building as a family roller rink.
Barraclough learned how to skate around the time he learned to walk. He said it is important to foster family-friendly entertainment for children.
“I don’t want to sell it to anyone else. We need a roller rink here. The next closest one would be in Monmouth. People go further than that. I’ve gone further than that to go skating. But the average person who lives in this town is not going to travel an hour to go skating,” Barraclough said.
100 years of history
Six years from now, in 2028, Kenny’s Roller Ranch will turn 100 years old. Originally called Sandy’s, the roller rink is best known to locals through longtime owner and operator the late Kenneth Hart.
Kenny was such a presence in the community that Barraclough left his name on the building when he purchased it in 1999.
For the 39 years prior, Hart operated Kenny’s Roller Ranch with his wife, Lucille. They purchased it from the previous owner Charles Sandy and renamed it Kenny’s Roller Ranch.
Hart established a few strict rules few dared to break. No child was allowed to leave the skating rink without an adult. Extreme misbehavior resulted in eviction from the premises.
Barraclough keeps similar rules to ensure a roller rink is a safe place for everyone. When he kicks someone out for misbehavior, it is a lifetime ban.
“If you come in and misbehave, you leave,” Barraclough said.
During the early 1960s, the Harts added batting cages and a mini-golf course to the list of offerings.
A decade later, the couple tore down the existing home on the premises and built a new one.
At about the same time, the Harts picked up the entire rink and moved it to the east, combining parking lots that used to be located on both sides of the facility.
The business was booming, but a fire in 1974 burned the entire facility to the ground. Everything the Harts had worked for was gone, and the fire proved to be a financial disaster. Rather than see the rink permanently closed, the owners and community members came together to rebuild, scooping ashes from the ground.
rink to another
Kenny and Lucille sold Kenny’s Roller Ranch in 1999 to Tim and his father Joe Barraclough. Joe regularly took his family to a local roller rink in Toledo, Ohio, when Barraclough was a child and ended up running several of his own.
Joe Barraclough worked at Pullen Park Arena in Raleigh, N.C., as a teenager in the 1930s and ran roller rinks in Toledo.
“I grew up at Fun Spot (roller rink). My dad worked there. I started working there when I was in fifth grade, which was legal then. I was on the payroll. I did everything. The only thing I hadn’t done was the office,” he said.
After high school, Barraclough moved to North Carolina and took a job with a medical instrument manufacturer. He lost his job when the manufacturer closed, and he found an ad in a skating industry magazine listing Kenny’s Roller Ranch for sale.
Tim drove from North Carolina to Toledo, picked up his father, then the pair traveled to Burlington.
“Kenny was very impressed because we knew the skating business,” Tim said. “Dad worked in skating rinks all his life, and so have I.”
The father-son duo bought the rink in 1999, and Barraclough moved to Burlington.
Rink keeps rolling
If no customers show up within an hour, Barraclough closes up shop.
But he does not remember the last time he had to do that. Despite the video games, social media, and other distractions that absorb a child’s time — kids love to skate.
“We had about 40 people in here the other night, and we had 60 Saturday night,” Barraclough said.
Aside from regular skate times, the 60-by-120 maple wood floor (built in 1974) also hosts the Big River Brawlers roller derby team.
The group trains and practices weekly at the roller rink.
Meanwhile, Tim remains the ever-vigilant cashier, watchdog, manager, and security guard.
He will miss it.
“I love what I do,” he said.