Birling the Skatepark Effect
Wesley Lee, Drop down to 50-50. Cayer By Adam Wawrzynczak There was once a time when skateparks acted primarily as warm-up spots....
So Colin, for those who don’t know, tell us a little about the history of Sk8 Skates.
Wow, you hit me with a big one right off the hop. How detailed do you want? Sk8 was started in 1987 by Steve Harnish and Klaus Hoffman. Since then it’s been passed down through 12 Winnipeg-based owners by my count. Throughout the 12 owners, Jai was the one that really made the shop what it is today. He was influential in creating a close skateboard community in Winnipeg and made Sk8 the epicentre. Sadly, Jai and his partner passed away in a motorcycle accident in 2001. Shortly after, Genico bought the shop from Jai’s dad. I worked for Jai’s dad and Genico since 2001, and when Genico wanted to sell in 2011, he sold it to me and my wife, Dana. We’ve owned it since.
Is there a story behind why the shop is called Sk8?
Steve Harnish told me once that they came up with the name from playing around with their initials, the S for Steve, the K for Klaus and 8 because they had eight team riders. It seems a little too convenient, but he claims it’s true. It’s funny that everyone calls it Sk8 Skates now. When I was growing up, we just called it Sk8. Steve told me that the guy that drew the sticker, Harry Chan, added the “skates” part when he drew the logo, but the original name was Sk8. Even though the “skates” was always on there, it wasn’t until we got shop decks that people started saying it. I think saying Sk8 deck sounds vague, but if you say I’m skating a Sk8 Skates deck people know what you were talking about. That’s my theory on it, but I could be wrong. The shop so nice, they named it twice.
So how many times has Sk8 moved since it first opened?
Sk8 has moved a lot. It originally opened on Sherbrooke, had a couple locations on Corydon, moved to Pembina, then back to Corydon, then moved to the Forks when the Plaza opened up, and now we’ve moved to 564 Main St! We’re so stoked.
That’s exciting, but why did you move from such a prime location next to a massive skatepark?
I’m glad you asked. We have a seasonal kiosk in the park that we’re going to stock with hardgoods, so we’ll still have a presence at the park. We’re also still going to do events, staff the park and offer our free skateboard lessons -we just won’t have our shop in the market. Personally I’ve always felt like the market wasn’t the best fit for us. And I think our new location is really the prime one. I think the walk through traffic we had at the Forks kind of killed the hang out vibe the shop used to have. When you have field trips and tourists cycling through, it isn’t a comfortable spot for our customers to come chill and watch skate videos all day like I did as a kid. We were also very limited at the Forks with what we could do. With our new space we’re able to hold events and really bring the community together. I’m stoked to have bands play and have art shows, etc. We’re also right downtown in a central location and near the Edge indoor skatepark. Maybe I’m romanticizing my childhood a little too much, but I want to give people the shop I grew up in, and so far within the first week of opening here, it really is!
That totally makes sense, and it’s sick that people will still be able to buy a board or something right at the park if they need to. When did you officially make the move?
We shut the doors at The Forks November 27th, and then reopened December 2nd. It was gnarly, Dana (Knoll), Keiran (Zimmerman), Julian (Kelly) and I were doing 15 hour days to get it ready. It didn’t feel like work though, we had a blast. Cain (Lambert) and Josh (Thorvaldson) volunteered a bunch of hours which was awesome. I’m so grateful for all those guys help.
When we filmed the moving video, the building just looked like a cinder block box. How long have you had it for?
This whole renovation process took so long. We’ve had the building since June 15th, and our building permits didn’t get approved until the beginning on September. It was frustrating. I went and skated inside of it a few times, and one day I drank a bottle of champagne with my wife there, but besides that, it just sat all summer.
Damn, you’ve been renovating for 5 months now, so it must have needed a ton of work right?
Yeah, half of that was waiting for the permits to get approved, but yeah it was a huge reno. When we got the building it was basically just a shell with good bones. No washroom, no lights, no drywall and insulation, no electrical outlets, the exterior wasn’t finished, and we didn’t even have a front door. The renos are what made this whole thing kind of terrifying. When we bought the building we knew that we could cover the mortgage with what we were paying in rent at The Forks, but having the renovations on top of that is a whole different loan that we have to pay back. Basically we are just in a ton of debt. But we’re stoked on the decision, and our customers seem to be backing it!
I’m assuming you sort of anticipated the costs of renovating a new building beforehand, but were there any hiccups or unexpected things that have happened along the way?
We had really good builders, so there weren’t any issues with them. There has been a bunch of annoying things with other people, but I think the most insane one was our phone company quoting us 17 grand to run service to the building. When we got the building I just assumed all buildings downtown would have access to phone and internet, but apparently that’s not the case. We sorted it out with another phone company and didn’t have to pay as much, but holy hell, I was actually trying to figure out how to run a business without phone and internet. I was like “could I just ring up sales on my cell phone? This is gonna suck, but I guess that’s my only option”. Our building might as well have been on an island according to the phone company.
What the hell, how could that happen? Did they just figure you needed their service and would pay whatever?
I don’t think that was it, I think it was actually going to cost them that much to run a line to my building. They said they were going to have to cut out the city side walk, etc.
I guess that makes sense, but then how would a different company be able to do it any cheaper?
The other company is obligated by the province to provide service apparently, that’s why it was cheaper.
Oh nice, thank you Manitoba! So other than the big move, what else is coming up in the future for Sk8?
We have a bunch of cool stuff happening in December. We did a clothing collab with our friends that have a motorcycle club, and we’re doing a big party to release it with an art show, bands and stuff. James Morley has a short video he’s releasing that is all Sk8 Skates guys, so I assume we’ll do a premiere for that. We’re also doing a jacket drive with a local homeless shelter, and we’re camping on our roof to raise awareness about the initiative. I’m so stoked to sleep outdoors in December, but I think everyone else is bummed ha. Mountain Equipment Coop is loaning us the proper gear to stay warm, so it should be chill. I emailed them and basically said “can you help us not die?” And they were down. We have some other cool stuff happening but we’ll post about it when it gets closer to the dates.
Sounds like a big month and a good way to end the year! Any last words?
Come hang out at the shop and make all the stress, debt and sleepless nights worth it!
Interview by Alex Doyle
Wallride photo by Tyler Geurts
Family portrait by Bill Acheson