With family business on brink, Skateland owners cling to hope as Lockport’s foreclosure deadline looms - The Buffalo News
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With family business on brink, Skateland owners cling to hope as Lockport’s foreclosure deadline looms

LOCKPORT – Lori and Brian Ferraro once were competitive roller skaters, with Brian winning a national championship, but now they need to come up with their toughest trick ever – finding enough money to prevent the City of Lockport from foreclosing on their business.

Property taxes haven’t been paid since 2011 on Skateland, for decades a family fun center. Earlier this year, the city served a foreclosure notice, and unless the Ferraros pay $57,255 by May 16, the city will take title and auction off the Lincoln Avenue property later this year.

City Treasurer Michael E. White said the city can’t set up any kind of installment plan, since Lockport law allows such arrangements only for residential property.

Lori Ferraro, 38, who is 49 percent co-owner of the business, said that if it goes to auction, she and husband, Brian, 49, who owns the other 51 percent, won’t be able to win it back.

“If we had the money to buy it back, we’d pay the taxes,” Lori Ferraro said, adding that personal bankruptcy also is a possibility.

The total owed as of the end of April was $93,214, which includes taxes, interest and penalties both on the main building at 1109 Lincoln and on an adjoining lot the Ferraros own at 1077 Lincoln.

The $57,255 is the redemption figure for taxes, interest and penalties that are more than two years old. The city doesn’t foreclose for unpaid taxes more recent than that. The minimum redemption payment for the main business property alone would be $53,132, the Treasurer’s Office said.

“It’s a couple-year process,” Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said. “We don’t foreclose on anybody overnight. They received three notices.”

The first notice was sent out a year ahead of the foreclosure deadline, McCaffrey said.

Skateland has lost money for 19 consecutive years, according to Lori Ferraro. For the first decade of that period, losses averaged about $100,000 a year, she said, and more recently, the deficits have been $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

Red ink has flowed ever since a 1995 expansion, which added a laser tag facility and an 18-hole miniature golf course, raising the business’ taxes and expenses without bringing in enough countervailing revenue.

Most businesspeople with a record of red ink like that would have given up long ago, but Lori Ferraro said another roller rink owned by her husband’s family in Lake George was successful enough to subsidize Skateland’s losses.

However, the Lake George business also has fallen on hard times. Skateland has been unable to fend for itself, and the Ferraros have been forced to appeal to the community to bail them out.

“So far, through special events and T-shirts, we’ve raised about $20,000,” Lori Ferraro said. “If they come and frequent us a little more often, that would change everything.”

Not only does Skateland face the pressure of losses, but the owners of Allie Brandt Lanes, almost directly across the street, are proposing a miniature golf course of their own.

The Niagara County Planning Board voted in favor of that April 21, with the only opposition coming from Lockport Common Council President Joseph C. Kibler, who said that a competitive golf course probably would be the last straw for Skateland.

“I would agree,” Lori Ferraro said. “It’s a very similar market.”

Some of Skateland’s fundraisers have been fairly successful, such as a Superheroes Skate with costumed characters, and a local Zumba class meeting there instead of in its usual classroom. But a laser tag tournament and an “old school” skate didn’t accomplish much, she said.

“We have cut the losses, but due to a variety of factors, such as liability insurance costs, increased utilities, payroll expenses, workmen’s comp, all of those factors have continued to drain us to a point that we are not able to meet our expenses,” she said. “My husband and I are tapped out. We’ve committed our (individual retirement accounts) to the business. We go without pay as often as possible, and out personal finances have suffered in hopes we can get to the other side of this.”

Skateland, formerly known as Skateport, was purchased by Ferraro Entertainment, as the family business is known, in 1985. A decade later, the Ferraros added the laser tag arena and the mini-golf course. “It was a profitable business before that,” Lori Ferraro said. The Ferraros, who were married in 1994, have two children.

Roller skating in general has struggled commercially. “Into the 1990s and 2000s, it’s not been an activity that’s been frequented as much,” Lori Ferraro said. “There have been many closures. Many that have survived have had to go into family entertainment, which is why my husband’s family had the idea to expand.”

Roller rinks have closed recently in Clarence and Depew, which has brought an influx of northern Erie County residents to Skateland, she said.

The Lockport business recently converted its laser tag course from the Laser Storm brand to Lasertron, which enthusiasts consider more appealing. “People have shown interest in that,” Lori Ferraro said, and the number of laser plays has increased. The Lasertron hardware came from the Lake George rink.

Prices aren’t high at Skateland. It charges $6 for a family skating session, but at Wednesday bargain nights, the price is only $2. Rentals of roller skates are $3, Lasertron starts at two games for $7, and there’s a $6 unlimited Lasertron package price. Mini-golf costs $5 for 18 holes.

There’s also a $16 family weekend package of Lasertron, skate rental and skating.

Skateland employs 25 people, mostly part time.

The Ferraros, who commute from West Batavia, hope that somehow, some way, they can remain in business.

“Skating has been our passion,” Lori Ferraro said. “My husband didn’t start skating until his early teens, and that led to his father finding the rink in Lake George. His father was an accountant before that, and they moved every three years or so, state-to-state. The family really wanted to settle, so they rolled the dice and bought this rink in Lake George, the one the family still owns and runs. Things were successful for roller rinks in the ’70s and ’80s.”

Lori Ferraro had been skating competitively since the age of 5, until her home rink in Batavia was destroyed in a fire when she was about 16. She tried a rink in Depew before switching to Skateland, where she met Brian and, in Lori’s words, “fell hard.”

“We genuinely wanted our business to stay and be our livelihood,” she said. “We’ve taken those cuts in income and live in a small house out in the country, trying to make ends meet.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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