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Sharon Caskey Hayes • Jul 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — It’s been a mainstay in Kingsport for the past 35 years, playing host to thousands of children and their families through the decades.

Now Skate City is closed for good, and the family that’s owned and managed the business is expressing gratitude to the community that’s supported them all these years.

The Robinson family, who have owned Skate City for the past 25 years, sold the property on Bridgewater Lane to an out-of-town developer who plans to establish a fitness center at the site.

The transaction was completed this week, following the closure of Skate City in late March.

“I heard some of the kids in town were trying to start a petition to keep it going,” said Johnny Robinson. “It seemed it was like a family member we were always trying to keep on life support. But it’s time to let it go.”

The Robinson family — Norma, 87; her son John T. Robinson, 63; and his children, Alisha Atkins, 44; and Johnny Robinson, 27, recently gathered at Norma’s house to reminisce about the skating rink and their lives at the business.

Norma said she learned to skate when she was just 4 years old growing up in Harrisonburg, Pa. When she was a teenager, her family moved to Kingsport, and Norma was disappointed that the town didn’t have a skating rink.

When Skate City (initially called Skate Inn) opened in 1973, Norma wasn’t a kid anymore, but it didn’t stop her from putting on skates and taking to the floor. She skated with all the kids, and often brought her grandchildren to skate several times a week.

“I always loved skating, and I’d still skate if I was able,” she said.

When the original owner, William E. Smidley, decided to sell the rink in 1983, Norma and her son decided to buy it. They operated the business through the 1980s, and Alisha and Johnny grew up at the facility.

In 1991, the business was leased to Bo Phillips. When he retired in 2002, the business came back under Robinson management with Alisha, Johnny and their mother, Joan, at the helm.

In the last year, Skate City was managed for the Robinsons by Rick Hartgrove.

Norma, John T., Alisha and Johnny said they want to thank the community for supporting Skate City all these years. Area schools, the Boys and Girls Club, Kingsport Parks and Recreation, and local churches have all held various events at the facility. And the rink hosted lots of birthday parties during its time.

“We appreciate everybody who’s come to support us,” Alisha said.

The family said they’ll miss all the people — especially the children who frequented the skating rink.

Asked why they decided to sell now, the family said Alisha and Johnny are ready to move on to other business opportunities.

“And he (John T.) wasn’t able to look after it, and I wasn’t either,” Norma said. “If you have a business, you need to be there for it.”

“But I’ll miss all the kids,” John T. said.

These days, Norma spends time enjoying her new great-granddaughter, Alieazah Robinson, born June 10. Proud papa Johnny said he’s saddened that his daughter will never know the fun of growing up at Skate City.

“I was driving down Stone Drive the other day and glanced over at the building and got teary-eyed,” he said.

“A lot of people in this community grew up in that skating rink. It’s a sad day to see it close.”

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