WALLINGFORD — Bart Simpson wasn’t the only kid who once caused adults to panic by skateboarding through town.
In the mid-1990s, local teens socialized at Simpson Court, the half-block long business strip uptown that runs parallel to North Main Street. Some of the older teens smoked on benches while the younger ones skated in the parking lots.
By 1996, some Simpson Court store owners began complaining, saying the skateboarders scared customers away, according to Record-Journal archives.
Jeff Thewlis, then a pharmacist at Stimpson’s Pharmacy, said in April 1996 that he had called police because of the large number of kids who congregated outside the business.
“It doesn’t help,” Thewlis said. “Customers are intimidated when you have 25 to 30 kids in front.”
It was the skateboarding, however, that interfered in a more tangible way, inconveniencing pedestrians and motorists, and police took notice.
“Some run into the street and wave their hands, stopping traffic,” said then Police Chief Douglas L. Dortenzio. “Others obstruct sidewalks.”
Police cracked down on loitering and skateboarding, prompting some teens to complain about police harassment.
Michael Mulrooney, who was 19 when he spoke to the Record-Journal in April 1996, said he eventually took his skateboard elsewhere.
“I used to skate here but I don’t anymore because of the cops,” he said. “They harass us.”
Zach Duffy, then 13, said that he would just leave and come back because the Simpson Court area was a good place to skateboard.
“It’s cleaner up here and not as sandy,” he said. “We don’t make any trouble.”Skateboard ban
When damage to benches and sidewalk bricks became overwhelming, the Town Council proposed an ordinance banning skateboarding, rollerblading and bicycling on the sidewalks in the center of town, despite concerns about enforceability and constitutionality.
The Town Council took up the proposal in September 1996. During a public hearing, Trevor Tomko, then 14, spoke on behalf of the skaters when he urged the council not to look at them as “delinquents or hooligans.”
Many supporters of skating urged the town to consider building a skate park.
The ordinance passed 5-3.
“I don’t understand what we did wrong,” said rollerblader Jimmy Mazziotti, then 14. “In the news you hear about gangs and killings. We … stay out of trouble by doing this.”
Sue Evarts, then sales manager at the Smart Shop, said in April 1996 that the kids had actually been respectful.
“I don’t know whether I’d call skateboarding and yelling a little as acting wild,” she said.
Veneranda Heffern, then a psychotherapist who had an office on Simpson Court, said in September 1994 that the teens didn’t bother her.
“I work about four nights a week until about 9:30 and I’m not afraid of the kids,” she told the Record-Journal. “I know it’s better having them here than coming out and finding nobody here. I feel protected.”
Skateboarding has been replaced by online socializing, but the spirit of youth, recklessness and upending the status quo just by being kids remains the same.
As Bart Simpson would have said during his heyday, “don’t have a cow, man.”