Holiday ice rinks fall victim to COVID-19 pandemic

LIVERMORE, Calif. (KGO) -- Add holiday ice skating rinks to the list of things you won't be able to take part in this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Operators of all the seasonal ice skating rinks that typically kick off in time for Thanksgiving have announced that they will not be opening this year.

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On its website, operators of the Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center announced the disappointing news: "Unfortunately, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the 2020/2021 season of The Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center to ensure the health and safety of the community."

Similar announcements were made by other seasonal ice rink operators.

Connor Spence operates Norcal Ice in San Rafael. He decided not to open this year.

"If someone got sick at my rink or my staff, I would feel horrid. I just don't want to cause anybody any harm," said Connor Spence, who operates Norcal Ice at Northgate Mall in San Rafael. He decided not to open this year.

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Like Norcal Ice, none of the usual outdoor ice skating rinks in the Bay Area are opening this year.

That includes the rinks at Embarcadero and Union Square in San Francisco, the rink in downtown San Jose, or the rinks in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Napa, Marin and Walnut Creek.

Safety is one reason. Money is the other. Spence estimates it costs Norcal Ice 200-thousand dollars to operate the rink.
"In years past, I would usually cycle through 500 to 600 skaters on a busy day. If you have to cut that down by 25-30%, there is no way to afford the equipment and staffing to operate a rink," said Spence.

The cancellations have been devastating to Emery Lykins, who owns Special Ice in Livermore.

His entire business is setting up seasonal ice rinks. He either helps operate or rents out supplies to more than a dozen seasonal ice rinks in California.

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Around this time, he would have ten to 15 employees fine tuning the zamboni machines and loading up tents and skates onto trailers to start setting up ice rinks. Another 250 seasonal employees would be getting ready to staff the rinks, which usually open around the first week of November.

Instead, his warehouse in Livermore is very quiet. The zambonis and skates are gathering dust.

"When I have to make phone calls to 150 people that have worked for us and say we don't have anything for you this year, those are tough phone calls to have," said Lykins.
At the end of last season, he bought thousands of new ice skates at around $100 each. They are all still unpacked.

"We couldn't predict what was coming," he said.

Up until about a month ago, he was still optimistic that he would still be able to open the ice rinks, but the reopening of businesses in Bay Area counties didn't come fast enough.

The money he got from the Paycheck Protection Program for his workers has run out. He worries not just about this year, but next year too.

"We can probably get through this one season. If this goes another year for us without some serious help, we are all looking for something else to do," said Lykins.

That's a chilling effect nobody wants to see.

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