Swinging open the doors to Magic Elm Skateland on West Elm Street in Hanover, one breathes in a beautiful blend of history and newness; the busyness of a day is replaced with youthful activity, music, and conversation.
Co-owner Andrew “Andy” Moul is proud of his business that “brings families together” and sustains “three generations of family fun” since November 1974. While there are skaters of all ages coming to enjoy the Christian, country, and rock playlists, there is one regular customer who loves hearing the old-time organ music.
Known as ‘Ray’ by everyone at Magic Elm, this 84-year-old retiree pauses when he hears the recorded organ pipes play, and smiles.
“This is roller music.”
Encouraged to go out and skate, he stays put because he wants to finish his story.
Ray has been skating since he was a child. His mother’s death forced him to “get to work’’ at age nine to help the family out. Skating provided a break from the rigors of farm work, which included 80 feet climbs up a silo. Today, “60 feet would be okay” for Ray.
Eventually, Ray became a rink manager and met his wife who was “the real star of the show.” It wasn’t until her death a few years ago that he returned to skating as a break from what life was offering.
His eyes rim with warmth as he remembers dance stepping with his wife who graciously “allowed” him to be part of her competition routines. “She would skate beautifully,” he remembers, “and let me skate out to her at one point in her routine.”
Ray did have skills of his own, however. “A handkerchief was placed in the middle of the floor like a tent, “ he starts. Then, he would “spread eagle and bend down so low” in order to pick the handkerchief up with his teeth.
The crowd that had gathered to hear Ray’s stories laughed, playfully challenging him to try that now.
“The handkerchief would have to be chest high,” he laughed.
“Everything is speed now,” he observes, watching skaters of all ages whiz around the oval, moving to the music that has now transitioned to soft rock.
“Very few people are interested in learning anything interesting,” Ray adds, which is why it is so encouraging to see a wide age range of skaters regularly spending an evening at the rink.
Ray skates with the aid of a skate mate. Made of sturdy PVC pipe, this tripod-shaped cart on wheels earned Andrew Moul, his son Andy, and manager Gary Miller the Innovator of the Year Award in 2013 by the National Roller Skating Association.
The idea started with an office chair being pushed around. The original shape was a square, a boxed-out design. However, Andy’s redesign into a triangular shape makes for a more streamlined roll. These devices are used in rinks internationally by those who are new to skating, returning to skating or have physical challenges and need some additional support.
“We are really proud of being the first to introduce the cart,” says Andy Moul. The carts, which are now produced in Philadelphia, come in a variety of heights to meet the needs of the customers. It is a confidence issue for some and a necessity for others.
“I have taken some bad spills,” recalls Ray, “Only two recently,” he corrects. But he is not deterred from the sport he loves.
This device helps him skate with greater stability. It certainly does not slow him down. Out on the oval, he maneuvers to the outside of a teenage couple, casually chatting while rolling along as if they were walking in street shoes.
“It’s a wonderful life,” he says, after he comes off the floor and takes his seat on the bench near the music booth. His hands rest loosely on the skate mate cart, legs outstretched as his skating family sits on the circular seats scattered throughout the nonskating area, which serve as a place for putting on or taking off skates as well as for conversation.
This area, as well as the entire complex, underwent a complete renovation as part of the 40th anniversary celebration last year. Most of the painting and remodeling was done by the Moul family and Gary Miller. The renovation included new carpet, upholstery with geometric designs of all colors that will glow with a black light, updated party rooms, and simply more space. The entire arena is fresh yet familiar.
Much like Ray.
His presence at the rink is noticeable, although he is not entirely comfortable being in the spotlight.
“I’m the jewel of this place,” he jests, referring to all the attention he is getting tonight. He insists he is “just a regular guy” as he quickly points out other patrons he has known over the years.
“You know she needs to smile more,” Ray jokes to Tiffany, a wheelchair-bound young woman who has been coming to Magic Elm for approximately 20 years. A broad smile makes its way across her face as she shakes her head.
Ray is happy to see it.
“See? See? I told you,” he laughs. And so does she.
Andy Moul has clearly made it a mission for Magic Elm to be family friendly and affordable and an available experience for people of all ages and abilities.
Public skating hours are Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays in the afternoons and evenings. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays are available for private parties. Beginning Father’s Day, the rink is closed on Sundays through the third Sunday in September.
For Ray, it’s always Wednesdays. 6:30-8 p.m. Family time.
The conversation ends. Ray snaps off his original 1940-era skates from his shiny black boots, puts the skates parallel, and lowers them gently into his shoe bag, and spryly rises to put on his coat.
“You gotta realize we aren’t where we were,” states Ray.
We’re some place magical.