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Society Skatepark a 'collision of culture, of art and music' in Memphis

By Published: February 25, 2019 4:00 AM CT

It started with a Facebook post in 2017, a call to save the beloved Hazard County Skatepark outside Atlanta. It had lost its lease and had 18 days to vacate the building.

Aaron Shafer, a fixture on the Memphis skateboarding scene reposted it, asking, “Hey, does anyone want to save these ramps?” Soon the interior of the skatepark 400 miles away in McDonough, Georgia, was on its way to Memphis.

It took six days to deconstruct the park and pack it into six semi-trailers. Three entrepreneurs and a handful of Memphis volunteers spent the next year rebuilding and remodeling a Binghampton warehouse, turning it into Society Skatepark & Coffee, which opened Dec. 22 at 583 Scott Street.

The space in an industrial area near Broad Avenue includes 10,000 square feet of indoor ramps and rails for skateboards, BMX, scooters and quad skating. Massive murals line the walls and music mixes with the sound of speeding wheels. The course’s crown jewel is its 10-foot vertical ramp, one of only a handful that size in the country.

“A lot of pros got started in Atlanta … they grew up on this ramp,” said Mark Horrocks, co-owner of Society with Matthew Wrage.

Customers are greeted by a 5,000-square-foot retail space. To the right of the entrance, gleaming skateboards and stylish sneakers line the walls of Contact Skateboard Shop owned by Zac Roberts. To the left is Society’s café, with wood bars, countertops and tables built by Wrage, who also co-owns CityWood, a custom woodworking shop near the airport. Society serves as its showroom. 

“Part of our concept of space is, yes, it’s a skatepark, it’s a coffee shop, but it’s kind of the collision of culture, of art and music,” Horrocks said.

“In the grand scheme of things, (Horrocks) and I know nothing about the skate world,” Wrage said. “We’re just guys who happen to know a bunch of people in the skate culture, and we saw that there was a need.”

In the two months since its launch, Society saw 900 individual riders from 25 states. The partners say Memphis has a thriving skate community and indoor parks are rare. Other lures are the legacy of Hazard County Skatepark, competitions, classes and the variety of businesses under one roof.

Clare Moore drove for two hours from Cleveland, Mississippi, with her son Gus and his two best friends to spend Gus’ 8th birthday at the park.

“We don’t have a skate park. It’s flat, so he gets bored,” she said. “I just think it’s a wonderful thing they’re doing.”

Wrage bought the Binghampton building in 2016 as a retail shop for CityWood and secured a $25,000 ICED loan from the Memphis-Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) to help with renovations. When space became available at CityWood’s current location, he began to look for new tenants for the Scott Street site.

Wrage and Horrocks join a number of innovative entrepreneurs in the Broad Avenue Arts District. Their neighbors include Five in One Social Club, with hand-crafted goods and workshops; the Rec Room, with arcade games, foosball and a bar; City & State, which sells artisan goods and coffee; and Wiseacre Brewery.

When Horrocks saw Shafer’s post about Hazard County Skatepark, he worked with Wrage to form a partnership, buy the park's equipment and rally volunteers to help move it.

They conferred with Roberts, Shafer and other volunteers from the skateboard and BMX communities to remodel the warehouse and consulted with 30 other park owners across the country to hone their business model.

“The level of support was just unreal,” Wrage said. “In every one of my other businesses, I try and strive not to preserve knowledge but to spread knowledge. The skate community was just awesome and accepting in that exact way.”

Society’s average skater is 25 years old, and many grew up skating at Skate Park of Memphis, which operated nearly 10 years until 2009 when it, like Hazard County, lost its lease.

“We wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for them,” said Horrocks of the local skate culture that grew up there. 

Eat, shop, skate

Society offers a day pass for $12 or a $75 unlimited monthly membership. On Saturday mornings, it hosts three all-ages classes based on skill level and on Monday nights offers an adults-only class. There’s a viewing room overlooking the skate ramps for meetings and parties.

“The African American Bar Association had their board meeting here last week,” Horrocks said. “Part of the idea was that parents can come here and hang out, work on a laptop while their kids skate.”

The coffee shop has local roasts and sandwiches, as well as baked goods made in-house. Horrocks said Memphis’ craft coffee community has been as supportive as its skate community.

“None of us view each other as competition. We all want each other to grow and thrive,” he said. 

Contact Skateboard Shop sells boards, parts, safety gear, shoes and apparel. Roberts said he’s sold 125 boards in less than two months and hired two part-time staffers to help him and his wife manage demand. “It’s just nice to see that Memphis will support a family business, a local business.”

Use of outdoor parks, such as the City of Memphis-run Tobey Skatepark at 2599 Avery, is limited by weather and seasons. Society offers a year-round resource. Nashville has an indoor park, but Horrocks said skaters from the city come to Memphis weekly. Atlanta skaters who once rode the ramps at Hazard County have made the trek, including semi-professional skater Eli Williams, who visited in December. His on-location Instagram post got more than 9,500 likes.

“Because we bought a park with a history on it, people know that in the skate community, and it’s just a quality park,” Horrocks said.

Camp and competitions

Society is now planning for youth spring break and summer camps that would include instruction, lunch, activities and free play.

In April, Society will begin hosting quarterly competitions for all age brackets, and owners are in talks with national professional and semi-professional circuits to bring higher-stakes competitions. 

“It’s something that Memphis really hasn’t seen,” Horrocks said.

The partners expect a boost in business as skateboarding gains legitimacy. In 2020, it will be an an official Olympic sport for the first time.

This story originally appeared at High Ground News, Memphis’ source for neighborhood reporting. Sign up for the newsletter here.



Topics

Society Skatepark & Coffee Binghampton Broad Avenue Arts District

Cole Bradley

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and applied anthropologist. Since 2011, Bradley has worked as a researcher, strategist, and community engagement specialist across the city's private, public, and non-profit sectors. Passionate about storytelling, Bradley began contributing to High Ground News in 2017.


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