MUNDELEIN – Lisa Duncan can’t imagine having to close her last remaining Just For Fun Roller Rink, but she’s struggling to keep the doors open.
Duncan, the owner of the Mundelein rink, permanently shut down the Just For Fun Roller Rink in McHenry in September after owning it since 2000. She’s doing all she can now to keep the Mundelein rink from facing a similar fate despite the challenges of the pandemic.
“We are really striving to stay above water this minute,” said Duncan of Spring Grove, who bought the Mundelein rink in 2012.
Along with the financial burdens and limitations of the pandemic, Duncan recently took another hit. Vandals broke into the Mundelein rink on Christmas, smashing a glass door. They also broke into a few nearby businesses.
With only about $500 on hand at the rink, they didn’t get much, but the break-in caused significant damage to the small business.
Duncan doesn’t pay herself and has relied solely on family members and volunteers to work at the business and keep the rink afloat. She has been unable to afford insurance.
Aware of the added financial stress of the break-in, one of those volunteers, Callee Smith, has created a GoFundMe page to raise $1,000 for the rink. As of early this week, more than $800 had been pledged.
“The pandemic has made it difficult for small businesses, like this one,” the page read. “The replacement of the door and the stolen money would be roughly around $1,000, which is a large cost to place on top of other business expenses. I understand this pandemic has been a difficult time for many, however, anything you are willing to donate will be greatly appreciated.”
The plea came as a surprise to Duncan, who said she never really has asked for community donations. Still, the community has stepped up in the past. Another GoFundMe effort in 2015 strived to keep the McHenry rink open. Local businesses donated gift cards, supplies and hours of labor to make repairs needed to the building at that time.
For Duncan, Just For Fun always has been more than just a business.
She grew up roller skating and later became “Mama Lisa” to many of the young kids who came to skate and hang out at her rinks.
She sees the roller rink as a fun, safe gathering place to keep kids out of trouble and a spot for a nostalgic night out for families.
“We make sure the kids have somewhere to go. We do that. That’s our passion,” Duncan said.
“To be honest, it’s probably the only thing I know how to do. It truly is a passion. It really is. I’m happy if we can just make our bills, and that’s all that matters.”
Paying the bills has become difficult with the rink unable to fully open since the pandemic began. Duncan said she has taken the pandemic seriously and done all she can to follow restrictions put in place.
The rink falls between the categories of exercise and entertainment facilities. Because she has no paid employees, Duncan said she hasn’t qualified for any loans or grants.
The number of people allowed in to skate and the rink’s hours have been extremely limited.
“We have opened a couple times with minimum people there. It’s not even worth opening the doors, but I don’t want people to forget about us,” Duncan said. “We keep closing and people forget. It’s hard enough, the struggle, as it is.”
Not hosting the rink’s typical balloon drop and New Year’s Eve festivities particularly hit her hard.
“This was the first year in 25 years I have not been at the roller rink for New Year’s Eve,” she said. “I can’t even tell you how many people called saying how weird it is not being at the roller rink. It was very depressing. Your heart’s in that, and now you can’t even continue with what you’ve been doing because of the pandemic.”
She said she has no plans to permanently close the Mundelein rink, but business is at least 90% down.
“Any help from the community at this point is well-appreciated because we are barely hanging on here,” she said. “It’s not just because of the door. It’s because of this COVID stuff. We would have never asked for anything, and I didn’t. … If it wasn’t for [Smith] asking for help because of the door, we would still just be doing what we’re doing now, trying to figure it out and mud through the waters. Now it’s out there.”