Photos by Jason Ruiz
The walls of Long Beach Roller Sport are a chromatic display of wheels, skates and scooters. A narrow, brilliant tapestry of sporting goods for pretty much anything you can scoot or wheel around town on. Skates with bright pink and lime green wheels rest across from vibrant knee-high socks with phrases like “Punk,” “Speed” and “Beer” emblazoned on them.
The in-your-face colors are just part of the roller derby culture that has been reinvigorated by the re-formation of the city‘s all-female league earlier this year. The new location of what was formerly called Long Beach Roller Skate, however, is something that shop owner, Natalie McPherson, hopes will help grow her business and infuse the city with enthusiasm for not just skating, but being active in general.
“I don’t want to be Big 5 and I don’t want to be Sport Chalet but I want to be so big and have so many options for people in this store of fun things to ride that there’s something for everybody in here," McPherson said. “We live in California. We have the best weather ever. We should enjoy it.”
McPherson, or “Buster Chassis” as she’s known when she skates with the Long Beach Derby Gals, has been moving on four wheels since she was toddler. Before becoming a stay-at-home-mom, she fought fires in Bullhead City, Arizona. It wasn’t until her husband came home with a flyer about the local derby team that she picked up her skate moniker and eventually her desire to open her own business.
The financial decision to take on a lower-rent location landed the initial iteration of Long Beach Roller Skate on the Eastside of town in an upstairs unit of a business plaza near Cal State Long Beach Last month, McPherson relocated LBRS to its new location at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and East Marshall Place. She attributes the trickle of foot traffic at the old location for allowing her to become a better business woman, but acknowledged that from the outset, she always wanted to be in Bixby Knolls.
“This is not just a tight-knit community as far as the neighborhood,” McPherson said of Bixby Knolls. “The businesses are tight knit, too. It’s an amazing circle of professional people that all work together really well.”
The interconnectedness with her fellow businesses owners is an idea that McPherson has already embraced even though she‘s the new kid on the block. When she changed names from Long Beach Roller Skate to Long Beach Roller Sport, it was with the intentions to expanding her inventory to everything on wheels. However, because of her proximity to two existing bicycle shops in the area she’s excluding bikes from her sales floor.
The sense of community is something that has been meticulously fostered by the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, in particular, Executive Director Blair Cohn. From First Friday events that invite the community to enjoy art, live music and special promotions put on by local business to happy hour mixers aimed at bringing business owners together-the association has made huge strides in making Bixby Knolls a destination for new businesses.
“The more that we’ve done to promote, activate and make a buzz about Bixby Knolls the more people have wanted to come up here and be a part of it,” Cohn said of the district’s reemergence.
The buzz has resulted in an influx of business applications for the strip of Atlantic Avenue that just a few years ago resembled the empty store fronts of North Pine. According to Cohn, in the last 18 months, Bixby Knolls has received about 70 new business applications which could be proof that the BKBIA’s efforts to stimulate and organize their part of the city is working. Cohn’s ultimate ambitions are aimed at making Bixby Knolls as synonymous as the more touristy parts of the city.
“I think that will start pushing us up to another level where its not just the Bixby Knolls residents coming out and supporting but drawing from other parts of the city to make Bixby Knolls a destination like the Shore or Downtown. Being part of the big three is what I call it,” Cohn said.
The growth of roller skating and roller derby has been on the upswing since the turn of the century. Leagues throughout the southland, including several in Los Angeles county, pit cities against each other in themed bouts with the larger more established leagues competing nationally. The sport is even catching on overseas. prompting one woman to visit McPherson’s shop all the way from France to get her hands on the high-quality products McPherson prides herself on providing to her customers.
“Well you can go to a chain store and buy a set of roller skates but the set of skates you get there are going to be plastic and vinyl and it’s not going to last you,” McPherson said. “When people see that they can get quality stuff they appreciate that. They don’t mind spending a little bit more for quality stuff. I got a good response from it.”
Luckily, Long Beach residents wont have to get their passport stamped or fly across the Atlantic to get to LBRS. They will just have to drive up Atlantic Ave. for a chance to experience the amenities that McPherson offers at her shop. Do you want to make your Chuck Taylor’s into a pair of roller skates? How about receive lifetime repair and maintenance on products purchased at her shop? Well, McPherson is your derby gal.
LBRS is one of two derby-centric stores located in Long Beach that serve the growing demand for gear as derby leagues continue to pop up. However, McPherson says that although she’d love to grow the sport, she’s happy with just getting people outside and being active, regardless of what they’re skating on. One thing will always be constant at LBRS, though.
“I will always have roller skates in my store,” McPherson said. “I don’t care if it goes back on the decline again. I was that nerd that when it was not cool and everyone was on roller blades. I was the nerd on skates, so I will always have skates.”
Long Beach Roller Sport is located at 3974 Atlantic Ave., (562) 999-2876, longbeachrollerskate.com