Disco lights refract and shimmy around the room. Overhead, Stevie B belts out the first chorus of “Diamond Girl” as seasoned skaters float around the rink in perfect rhythm with the music and each other. They pass a mother and daughter holding hands while dad clings to the wall to keep from falling flat on his back… again. It’s another Tuesday night at a generational hangout, Skate World. This legendary Lakeland skating rink has hosted some fifty years of birthday parties, first dates, rink rats, and squealing summer campers. Owner Chanel Bellotto works to keep Skate World clean and current so it can play host for a lifetime longer.
HISTORY OF SKATE WORLD
In the early 1970s, Arlys Talbert purchased Skate World, operating at its original location off Memorial and Lakeland Hills Boulevards until 1973, when the rink moved to its current spot. In 1977 Arlys’ daughter, Arleen Talbert, married Adonis Dedes, and the couple purchased the rink from him. Dedes owned and operated Skate World until his passing in 2007. That’s when his daughter, current Skate World owner, Chanel Bellotto, took on the family business.
We sat across from each other in a café booth at the rink. Chanel wore a pair of skates as she shared memories of her dad and her time growing up at Skate World. She smiled through a few tears as she began to talk about her dad. “He didn’t know a stranger,” she said.
Bellotto’s childhood was illuminated by neon light cutting through the smoke of birthday candles (her own and others’). She spent her days in a whirl of lights and music and pizza and roller skating. “I would come on Saturdays with my dad as a little girl, and I would skate and play Ms. Pac-Man – that was my thing,” she said. In her teens, Bellotto started working at the rink – hosting birthday parties, running the music, and helping at the register. “I do have a servant’s heart. I enjoy serving people and taking care of them,” she said. Bellotto describes her time growing up at Skate World as full of “happy, joyful memories.”
Her father was beloved in the community, with many roller rink regulars referring to Adonis as their dad, uncle, or big brother. “I have parents and grandparents that will come in and tell me what a godsend he was because this was a place where they could drop their children off, and it was a safe haven. They knew that my dad would not let them go outside. They knew that if for some reason, they couldn’t come and pick their child up, my dad would take them home. […] If a child needed something, my dad would give it to them.”
Adonis was even known to give hungry kids slices of pizza. “He was ever so generous and would give anyone the shirt off his back. He loved everyone,” said his daughter. Grown men have cried when they find out Adonis has passed, and folks continue to share stories of him with Bellotto. “That solidifies what I’m doing here. This is where I was meant to be,” she said. “God certainly had a plan because I was never, ever, ever going to run the skating rink.”
Bellotto always told her dad when he was ready to retire that he could sell the rink. She had her own ambitions and had no designs to take it over. After working in Washington, D.C., alongside Congressman Putnam for five years, Bellotto returned to Lakeland to work in event planning and fundraising at Florida Southern College.
“When my dad passed away, it was very, very sudden.”
When Bellotto resigned from her job to run the rink, everyone told her she didn’t have to do it, that taking on the rink meant inheriting a considerable debt. Just sell it and move on, they told her. But it was summertime, and Chanel refused to close the doors on all the children who had signed up for summer camps and relied on Skate World as a safe, fun place to hang out during their school break. She decided she’d keep Skate World open for a couple of months and sell it after summer. “At the end of the summer, I looked at my boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband), and I said, ‘We need to rip up the carpet, we need to gut the bathrooms, and we need new roller skates. And we’re going to Las Vegas for the roller-skating convention.’”
“His exact words were, ‘There’s a convention for you people?’” she laughed.
A RINK REFRESH
The couple went to Las Vegas, where Bellotto joined the Roller Skating Association International. She played an active role with the organization, serving as president of the section encompassing rinks in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. After her time as president, she was elected to the National Board of Directors, on which she served for three years. Though the Skate World owner loved her time serving on the board, it required a lot of travel, which meant time away from her “sweet and very supportive” husband Al and two sons, Trey and Jackson. “I serve God first, then my family, and then my business. My managers and employees, I think of them as family,” she said. Bellotto fulfilled her term on the board in 2020.
Since taking ownership of Skate World in 2007, Bellotto has made it a mission to refresh the rink regularly – new flake epoxy floor in the café, new carpet, new tables, new lights, a new air conditioning unit. The most significant rink reinvestment was a new skating floor in 2011. Florida humidity wreaked havoc on both the previous wood flooring and concrete beneath. Skate World’s current laser-leveled, polished concrete skating floor came with a $100K price tag.
The Skate World owner’s commitment to keeping the rink up-to-date paid off in 2018 when Chanel Bellotto was given the Operator of the Year award by the Roller Skating Association International. “It’s given to an operator that continually invests in their business. They’re a progressive operator, not afraid to take chances, not afraid to try things that are new, and willing to share those ideas with people,” Bellotto explained.
SKATING, STEM, AND SUMMER CAMP
Skate World is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to the public, with the second Sunday of the month reserved for Christian Skate when they play worship music. During Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring, and summer breaks, the rink is open Monday through Friday from 12 – 4 pm in addition to their regular hours.
Though one of the smallest rinks in the United States at 12,000 square feet with an 8,000 square foot skating floor, Skate World may also be the mightiest. The rink was one of the first to purchase the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) program from the Roller Skating Association International in 2015. “I want to invest in my community. Why wouldn’t I purchase a program that is going to give opportunities to children in my community to get excited about the STEM concepts?” said Bellotto. “Our lessons come from teachers across the United States. The best of the best of the best put together these lesson plans. We currently have ten lesson plans for elementary and eleven lesson plans for middle school,” she said. “Depending on what they’re teaching in the classroom, they can choose a lesson that’s going to complement what they’re already teaching.”
After a 45-minute STEM session, students get a roller-skating lesson followed by two hours of skating. Money from anonymous donors helps fund field trips for Title I schools in the area, a testament to the generosity of our community, Bellotto says.
The Skate World owner loves to see students’ faces light up when they enter the rink. Some have never been roller skating before. “So many of these families aren’t thinking about what family activity they’re going to do this weekend. They’re thinking about how to provide food on the table or how they’re going to pay the electric bill,” she said. “It has expanded the opportunity for so many children in our county.”
In addition to STEM, Skate World hosts lessons and camps. Every Saturday morning, instructor Joe Enthor, who has taught roller skating for over 40 years, offers a 30-minute lesson followed by time to stay and practice.
Contributing to her community is vital to the Skate World owner. Bellotto volunteers her time at her sons’ school and her church, First United Methodist. She has served on boards for the United Way, Girls Inc., Junior League, VISTE, Habitat for Humanity, and Paint Your Heart Out. But Bellotto is always looking for other ways to serve. After praying about it, the idea for a weekly fundraiser night came to her. Now, every Thursday evening is an opportunity for schools, churches, and other 501(c)(3) nonprofits to raise funds for their cause. Skate World gives back a minimum of 25% to the nonprofit, including admission, rentals, and café sales.
“I want to give back – that’s important to me. I look at this as a ministry, and that is the way I can help provide for others who may not be as fortunate,” said Bellotto. “As a small business owner and community leader, I feel it is my obligation to set a good example, especially for the next generation to recognize what a difference it makes when you serve others and how impactful giving back to your community can be.”
PRIDE AND JOY
“My goal has always been for it to be a safe, fun, family facility,” said Bellotto of her Lakeland roller skating rink. “I like to say that my dad did everything perfectly in my eyes. I just added a woman’s touch.” As the third-generation operator of Skate World, Bellotto works to maintain the reputation the rink has earned over the decades.
“There’s definitely a sense of pride and a sense of joy that I have been able to continue my dad’s legacy. I truly believe that God put me in this place to continue the ministry that my dad created and to be a safe haven for so many children.”