WALLINGFORD — As winter comes to Connecticut, the fall foliage fades and weather for hiking and most other outdoor activities disappears.
For almost 40 years in Wallingford, that meant taking off the hiking boots and lacing up roller skates for a fun indoor winter activity.
Wallingford served as a hub for roller skating starting in the early 1980s. According to Record-Journal archives, Wallingford had three different roller skating rinks in 1984, including Skating Palace.
By the time the inline skating craze of the 1990s hit, Wallingford still had a pair of rinks – Roller Haven II and Wheel World.
Roller Haven II wasn’t directly affiliated with North Haven’s Roller Haven, which closed in 1990, but there was a connection.
Town resident Kathy McNulty, a former skating instructor at Roller Haven would later become a co-owner of Roller Haven II when it opened for business in 1991 at an old warehouse on North Plains Industrial Road.
Roller Haven II served as the bridge between the two peak eras of roller skating, standing alone as the only roller skating rink in Wallingford until 1995, when Wheel World opened.
In 1991, co-owner Mary Anne Carrano said the objective in opening Roller Haven II was to provide a “recreation alternative” for a town that was briefly without a roller rink.
“You can always hear kids around here complaining that there is nothing to do, especially on the weekends,” she said. “Well, now they’ll have something to do….I’m sure we can make a go of it here.”
By 1995, McNulty had left Roller Haven II, which had relocated to Church Street by 1994, for Wheel World, located on North Cherry Street.
Wheel World took the national stage at times during its run. The Wheel World skating club competed in regional and national skating competitions, including the National Roller Skating Competition in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“The age spectrum is broad,” Wheel World co-owner Ed Ryan told the Record-Journal in 1996.
Andy Seeley, sports information director for the U.S. Amateur Confederation of Roller Skating, said in-line skating was considered the fastest growing sport in the world in the 1990s, and about 2,200 roller rinks were located throughout the country.
Wheel World would outlast Roller Haven II, which closed its doors in 2000 and later became the home of the AirOcean Aviation. Wheel World would follow in 2008, leaving Wallingford without a roller skating rink for the first time in almost four decades.
Today, those who want to dust off their old skates and hit the rink will have to travel to Middletown or Waterbury, as the once burgeoning home of roller skating has dwindled with the industry itself.