It’s increasingly rare these days for a family-owned business to thrive for five decades. It’s worth celebrating, really, on these golden anniversaries, not only when a business has survived, but when those businesses become part of the cultural fabric of their town.
Which is really the case for Kingsway Skateland in Paducah. Through recessions and pandemics, changing trends and hairstyles, Kingsway has endured, opening like clockwork, turning on their music, and giving us a place to find exercise and community with our friends and neighbors.
But the story of Kingsway Skateland doesn’t really start when the business first opened its doors back in 1973. Because the story of Kingsway doesn’t really belong to Kingsway.
Nope, it belongs to owner Connie Markgraf. And the story of how the wheels of roller skating keep turning in Connie’s life begins much earlier than that.
The wheels of that story started turning in the 1950’s when Connie’s uncle, who was living in Kansas, got the opportunity to buy a small skating supply company. When she was little, Connie remembers going into her uncle’s basement where he’d set up the shop to help him lace up some skates to sell.
Not long after, her uncle bought his first skating rink, the Overland Park Roller Rink, and it’s there that Connie laced up her first set of skates.
“I was eight years old and I’d never skated,” she recalls. “That’s where I learned to skate.”
Not long after, Connie’s uncle talked her parents into building their own skating rink in the town they lived in. She was just a couple of years older when the Grandview Roller Rink opened in Grandview, Missouri.
The Grandview Roller Rink was where Connie became a self-proclaimed rink rat. She’d go to work with her parents.
“I was young so they couldn’t leave me at home,” she recalls. “I was there every weekend.”
And being there every weekend gave Connie the opportunity to spend a lot of time on wheels. She got so good, in fact, that she was able to join a competitive skating club for a few years. She’s modest about her competitive skating days, but imagining those sounds amazing, right?
But behind Connie’s skating, competing, and having fun with friends, her parents were struggling to find the time to manage both the rink and her father’s job as a railway mail carrier.
“It really got too much for him to do both,” she recalls. “They finally sold it a few years later.”
When the doors to the Grandview Roller Rink closed, Connie says she thought the life of roller staking had closed up with them.
How could she know, as a teenager, that the wheels of this story were far from stopping?
“I never dreamed in my life that I would ever be involved in skating again,” she says. “I never dreamed I would own my own rink.”
Connie grew up, trained to become an x-ray tech and reconnected with a neighbor boy named Tony. They got married and when Tony needed a job that would give him flexible hours so he could finish college, you’ll never guess where he turned.
Yep, he went right back into the family business, getting a job from Connie’s uncle, who by then was running a blossoming skate supply company, supplying everything from skates, to flooring, to rinks around the nation.
One day Tony traveled from Kansas City to Cape Girardeau to deliver some skates and install flooring for a rink there. He made friends with the owners while he worked. They chatted—told him about their plans to expand, maybe even open a rink in nearby Paducah.
As he was leaving that day, the owners had an idea. Maybe this young guy, who’d been so helpful to their rink, would be willing to take over that expanded rink in Paducah. Maybe they’d found someone they could trust to run it for them from two hours away.
But Tony drove a hard bargain. He wouldn’t move his young family to Paducah just to be the manager. He wanted to be part-owner.
They shook hands.
And then Tony and Connie started packing. Back into a life as a rink rat Connie was heading.
In January 1973, the doors to Kingsway Skateland opened up in Paducah.
And Connie was there.
“My son was nine months old and we didn’t know a soul in Paducah to even ask to babysit,” she says. “So, I took him up, put him in the playpen and started selling tickets.”
Tickets at the new Kingsway were $1 to skate and 50 cents to rent skates.
“Can you imagine?” Connie laughs when she remembers those prices.
“The first nights it took half the night just selling tickets to get everyone in there,” she says. “They were all really anxious to get in there and see it.”
Connie and Tony settled into a groove running Kingsway in those early years. They finally hired someone to sell tickets so Connie and their son could only go during the days, when there were no skaters and she could focus on doing paperwork and payroll.
And the skaters kept coming.
One of those skaters was Sandra Hall, who laced up her first set of skates at Kingsway in 1978. She was a third grader and she was about to become a full-time rink rat as well.
“I just loved the place,” she says. “My mom was always bringing me out here to skate.”
Sandra would skate whenever the doors were open. She’d bring friends and raise money to skate in the annual Skate-A-Thon events they held.
When she turned 16 and was a junior at Lone Oak High School, Sandra did what every driving-aged kid did in the 80’s. She got a job.
“I was working at McDonalds in Kentucky Oaks Mall but a friend of mine was working at Kingsway,” she recalls.
“Because Kingsway was on the Southside, most of the teenage employees were from Reidland High School. My friend came to me and said they needed to hire someone from another high school because it made scheduling tough when they all needed off for the same school events,” she says. “I quit immediately. I’d only worked there for two months.”
Sandra threw down her apron and walked into Kingsway that day as an employee.
And then a funny thing happened.
“It was October of 1986 and I have been here ever since,” she says.
For 36 of Kingsway’s 50 years, Sandra has been there. She worked alongside Tony and Connie, first as an employee and then as manager.
She’s at the rink every day.
“It’s in my blood,” she says.
She’s seen a lot in those nearly four decades. She loves talking about the Skate-A-Thons they did to raise money. She loves Skating for a Cure events, New Years Eve parties at the rink, all-night skates, roller hockey and roller derby, and the 4-H Mini Wheels partnership with the local 4-H chapter where Sandra could teach kids how to skate.
“All of that was so exciting,” she says. “The most memorable times were when we did special things that gave back to the community.”
She says those were the most memorable times, but they probably were trumped by her Wedding Extravaganza on Skates.
You read that right.
When Sandra and her husband got married, at Kingsway Skateland, the entire wedding party was on wheels.
“It was July 3rd and the whole rink was decorated in red, white, and blue,” she says. “I had this big, fluffy dress and I just floated down the skating rink.”
“The preacher was the only one who about fell down.”
“It was a blast.”
For Connie, who was in attendance, it was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, even for a rink rat like herself.
“When I was a kid and my parents had that rink, I had heard of a couple of other people that had gotten married on skates,” she says. “I never dreamed it would happen in my rink.”
Fifty years at Kingsway has not always been smooth rolling, weddings, and skate-a-thons. Connie has seen some tough times come and go along the way as well.
When she lost Tony, even though it was in her blood, Connie could hardly cope with having to take over the business that he’d managed for so long.
“I’m an x-ray tech by trade and I didn’t know the actual running of the business that well,” she remembers. “That was the scary part for me.”
“I just had to take it over and try to make it on my own.” Fortunately, she had Sandra, who Connie calls her right arm and her left arm.
When you ask both women about the tough times they’d seen at Kingsway, without hesitation, they say the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to close for three months and it was right in our peak time in the winter,” Connie says.
“We were struggling to know if we would be able to open those doors again. We didn’t know how long it was going to be closed at the time.
“I was fortunate that our building is paid for. Some skating rinks in the country had to close after that.”
“That was one of the scariest times.”
But, they agree that there is one thing that makes all of the scary times worth it. In fact, it makes all of the mundane things worth it too, like the toilets that clog, the bills that don’t pay themselves, the slow summers, the busy winters.
“One of the best things is when those young kids that skated in your rink come back years later and they bring their kids and grandkids,” Connie says. “When they do, they tell us how much they appreciate what we did and having that place for them to come to that was safe and nice and the influence we had on them and how much they appreciated the things my husband did that made a difference in their lives.”
“For them to come back and say they appreciate it is one of the biggest things for me.”
It’s a feeling that Sandra knows well too.
“It means the world to me,” she says. “It’s a special feeling because when you are here that long and you see people grow up and then bring their kids back.”
“That’s the main thing that I’m proud of is that we’ve made some impression on the community to keep us here because we wouldn’t be here without the customers.”
“Being here for so long, hopefully we have made a difference in some people’s lives and hopefully it’s been good.”
“I just hope and pray that we keep that rolling.”
Skating at Kingsway is Good for You!
Both Connie Markgraf, owner, and Sandra Hall, manager, still lace up skates from time to time. Why? Because both say that skating is a healthy and fun way to exercise. Studies show that roller skating involves all of the body’s crucial muscles, including the heart, and is equivalent to jogging in health benefits.
“Skating is a great way to exercise indoors, especially in the winter,” Sandra says.
Even Connie still visits Kingsway to skate for exercise, though she prefers to go alone.
“I go up occasionally and try to do one more thing that I’m not sure I can do,” she says, laughing.
Sandra says it’s best to get kids on skates at an early age.
“My son was 16 months old, barely walking, and I had him in skates,” she says. “You need to learn early before kids become afraid to fall.”
To learn when you and your family can visit Kingsway Skateland, visit www.kingswayskateland.com or follow them on Facebook.