A retro roller skate rental is taking over the Bentway

The roller skate rental pop-up Retro Rolla will launch on June 19 and run all summer


A retro roller skate rental service is taking over the Bentway this summer starting on June 19.

Retro Rolla is accepting bookings as of June 14, and will release new time slots every Monday. The pop-up is run by Henry O’Brien and Janine Bartels, a couple who thought up the business idea last year. O’Brien had noticed a roller skate rental during a trip to Melbourne, Australia in 2019 and thought downtown Toronto needed one, too.

“You can rent bicycles, paddle boards and kayaks by the hour, but there’s no opportunity to rent roller skates,” he says.

The only problem? Like dumbells, bicycles, furniture, toilet paper and Peloton bikes, roller stakes were impossible to buy as North America went into lockdown last spring.

On top of that, interest surged in the perennially popular pastime during the first wave as choreographed roller staking videos went viral on the social media app TikTok, racking up hundreds of millions of views.

“We couldn’t get our hands on any inventory,” O’Brien says. “We work with a wholesaler in the U.S. that looks after the North American market, and they are backlogged with inventory requests.”

This summer, O’Brien got his order for colourful four-wheel quad skates in nice and early. When skaters show up at the Bentway on opening weekend, they can pick up their rented roller skates, as well as protective gear and helmets, from a refurbished shipping container.

Although the park beneath the Gardiner is home to a smooth figure-eight rink, people are free to leave and skate around the Fort York area – or bring their own skates or rollerblades.

Rental rates are $18 for first hour and each hour after is $10, up to a maximum of five hours. The minimum rental is one hour. Bookings will be staggered in case of a roll back in the reopening plan, and capacity is maxed at 25 people to ensure physical distancing is possible.

While music is generally a staple of roller rinks, pandemic restrictions sadly rule out live DJs. O’Brien says a loudspeaker may be possible at a later date, but for the launch Retro Rolla will have a Spotify playlist that skaters can access via a QR code via their own devices.

“We are by no means professional roller skaters,” he says. “In the last 12 months, a lot of people have experienced more loneliness and they aren’t as active as they once were. This is about getting outside and being active with friends in a socially distanced way.”

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