Support Your Park Part 3: Breaking Free Skatepark

There have been so many changes to our day to day lives since Covid-19 hit North America. From the changing group numbers, countless recreational facilities being closed and even our borders between Canada and the USA being shut down, it’s hard to keep up. All of our businesses are hurting and as we attempt to flatten the curve while moving into more mild weather,  it’s important to remember that in our community, our indoor bike parks are taking a huge beating right now. Even once we’re fine to come out from hiding, the parks that we turn to during the winter months, typically struggle into the summer even without an outbreak.

In support of the parks that give us sanity during the cold winter months, I reached out to several park owners and asked how they were doing during these unexpected closures. I don’t believe people realize how much this is hurting our indoor parks, considering this is the time they’re looking to bank as much as possible before numbers dip in the summer. I also wanted to outline ways you can help your local park, may that be buying a pass online to use in the future, or maybe buying products that they have in stock.

Today I’m introducing to you Part 3: Breaking Free, but follow this link for when all the interviews come out.  #SupportYourPark

1044 University Ave, Rochester, NY 14607, United States
Represented by Owner Dave Raffa
Support: Memberships, Private Rental @ $100 per hour. Riders 9 or less – Email [email protected] to book.

UK Rider Emma Finnegan Riding at Breaking Free
How did Breaking Free come to be, its history, significance, etc?

Breaking Free: Breaking Free Skatepark is the largest, all-wheel friendly skatepark in New York. I (Dave Raffa) moved to Rochester in May of 2013 to manage and help save R.A.S.P. (Rochester Action Sports Park). I was with them for just about two years before we parted ways. The owners had trouble relinquishing control. This led to tension, poor communication, and not many changes in how the skatepark ran. After my departure, R.A.S.P.’s financial hole continued to grow. Eventually, the property company came and gave them the boot. If The COVID-19 pandemic had hit while they were open, it almost certainly would have been the last nail in their coffin.

The warm fuzzy story is that R.A.S.P., the property company and I came to a mutually beneficial three-way agreement. It played out like this: R.A.S.P.’s debt was significantly reduced, the property company recovered some of what they were owed (and a new tenant), and I acquired a skatepark at wholesale. Before we got there R.A.S.P. had a sizable debt that needed to be mitigated. A team of volunteers and I organized a fundraising weekend for the closure of R.A.S.P. We liquidated stock, sold food, did a raffle, had a silent auction, the whole nine yards! We raised $10,000 over a weekend. R.A.S.P. closed on August 14th, 2016. By the end of September, I had created a legal entity for Breaking Free Skatepark, signed a lease, and began tearing the place apart (I had been using the name “Breaking Free” as a BMX brand and production company since 2007.)  With all volunteer labor, nearly the entire facility was rebuilt by the time of our opening on December 17, 2016.  BFS (Breaking Free Skatepark) was born.

By 2015, I had spent nearly a decade in the bike industry. It is worth noting that the bike industry is typically a seasonal biz, and I watched shop after shop (including R.A.S.P.) struggle with that. In order to structure and operate BFS in a way that was seasonable, scaleable and insulated from the ebb and flow of the skate/BMX industry, I worked closely with a friend who was a business consultant. Did I plan for a global pandemic? No.

With the changing landscape, you eventually had to shut down the park due to the new guidelines. As an owner, what’s going through your mind right now and how is your team?

Breaking Free: As we know, the corona craze quickly went from limiting groups to 250, then 50, then 25, and now 10. All schools, bars, restaurants, and gyms are expected to be closed as well.  So what the hell do I do?! I know how stressful this is, and I know how I feel when I am stuck inside. All these kids are home from school too?!  I want to be open and offer solace from this mess. I want to offer that safe place for people to ride out their stress. Now just when we need it the most, but I am forced to be closed. Actually, I wish it was as simple as being forced to close. I have the “option” of being open, which makes it so much worse. I have to make a decision of whether I want to be open and offer that relief for people, but at what expense?  Can I bear the burden of fault for COVID-19 spreading? That is the polar opposite of BFS’ mission… I have been brainstorming what I can do for riders. I am hoping to do “pop up” skateparks when I can so that people can get their shred on. Basically bringing a flat rail to a parking lot or something of that sort. I will also be doing a live stream Q&A/AMA this week in order to answer questions and hopefully offer some distraction from the hysteria.

Going forward, I have no idea what this means for the skatepark in the short term. My rec programs are canceled, and this seriously questions my summer camps, as well (July and August).  Traffic is already slow in the summer, and without camps, there is no way I can cover rent. Generally, indoor skateparks are a luxury. If the economy takes a hit, then luxury expenses are the first to be cut from a family’s budget. With that in mind, even if we make it to autumn, we might not have the sales we need to recover the lost ground. My hope is that this blows over sooner than later and that everyone remains healthy…

As far as my staff goes, I have few employees. BFS is a small operation. I am so thankful for that right now. If we had a sizable staff, I would have much trouble dealing with the stress of ensuring they are covered during this time. I have a seasonal employee, currently, Josh Babu, who does a little of everything and does all of our Youtube & Instagram video work. He is only under contract for another month, and I’ll do what I can to keep paying him for the next few weeks. My other paid staff works one day a week. His name is Clark, and he is a great kid– a teenager, who should be fine for the time being. I am the only full-time paid person. I will be suspending my pay until the cash is flowing again. I cannot imagine how much I might be freaking out if I had full-time staff with families to feed and could not keep supporting them. My heart goes out to the small businesses that are dealing with those difficult choices.

Financially, this must be a huge hit for you. In a normal year when there isn’t a pandemic, I assume this is like, crunch time right? You’re probably looking to bank as much as possible before attendance declines in the summer. If you can share any facts or figures, please paint us a picture to illustrate the severity of the situation – or maybe you’re doing ok?

Breaking Free: As I mentioned before, skateparks are typically a seasonal business, and I plan seasonally. I’ll try to paint you a picture of BFS’ cash flow. April through September are dead. In those months, we float between not covering the bills and being slightly profitable. We do a quarter or third of the traffic in the summer compared to the winter. October and March are very much weather-dependent. November through February is when the cash flow is strong. All of our six insurances renew in November and December. We pay them all upfront. So basically most November and December profits go bye-bye immediately.  However, we have no insurance payments all year and save on the financing of the billing plans, Everything we profit in January through March goes to our summer safety net (The last bit of that coming from summer camp deposits in March, which is not happening right now). Those summer camp deposits are usually about a quarter of the total of the safety net. We usually go into summer with about 2 months of rent in the bank. Rent is about $8,500 for us.

Timing is a huge factor for us. If COVID-19 happened a month ago or earlier, it would be catastrophic and possibly the end of the park (assuming there wasn’t any relief coming). If this happened a month from now or in the summer, it wouldn’t be as bad (assuming that it blew over before the autumn). It is really difficult to play the guessing game; we don’t know how long this will last and what the economic fallout will be. As for March, we already know it is weather-dependent, and now we have this mess. Assuming that I lose the rest of March, it would cost BFS about $15,000 to $20,000 in sales this month alone.

Currently is there any support from the government as a small business owner, maybe within your city or even your landlord?

Breaking Free: At the moment, I don’t know of any aid or relief for small businesses (aside from offering streamlined unemployment, which doesn’t really affect me). I presume something will be on the table eventually, but I am not depending on it. Expecting it is unwise. If something comes my way, hell yeah I’ll take it, but otherwise, I will weather this storm the best I can– solo.

Personally, I do not like seeing businesses already asking for extra support. This is basically day one, and they’re already asking for help? What if this becomes worse? The bottom line is that your health and your family precede the existence of my business. Take care of yourselves, and take all the necessary steps to make it through this. I will do the same. If I get desperate, I will reach out.  Please do the same if you get desperate.

How can we support you right now? 

Breaking Free: At the moment, the park is closed but available for private rental for groups of 9 or less, as per the NY State recommendation. Private rental pricing is $100 an hour but negotiable. Otherwise, come have a session when normal life returns. I’ll try my best to be here. We are stronger together, and it sucks we can’t do that right now.

From 2017 to 2018, the skatepark was down $50,000 in sales.  We weathered that without a problem. I pay close attention to my business, and I am positive BFS can make it through this. If I had to guess the cost of this pandemic on BFS? My guess would be somewhere between $20,000 and $70,000, but this early, it is really difficult to say because we don’t know how long this will last. We have some summer savings now. Additionally, the skatepark was profitable in 2019, and that capital is still in the account. Our 2019 taxes are filed and the post-tax profit might be the thing that saves us. If the cost of this pandemic is only money, the sacrifice of my 2019 salary might be what keeps the skatepark open, I can live with that. In fact, I am happy to do what I did in 2016 all over again– put my butt on the line in order to keep an indoor skatepark open.  You gotta respect the shred. Breaking Free Skatepark isn’t going anywhere.

Please support your park by sharing this article, and book a private session.
Shred when they open, even if it’s warm out.

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