‘Round and ‘Round
For 50 years, Mathew and Niah Foggy have built community while circling the roller rink at Skate King.
Arm-in-arm and perfectly in-sync, Mattaniah Foggy and her father Mathew Foggy glide down Skate King’s longest stretch together, floating across the slick wooden surface under the rink’s bright lights. The wheels of their roller skates give off a barely perceptible hum as the father-daughter pair lean slightly and drift through the furthest curve before skating back towards the rink’s corner entrance.
Mattaniah, who goes by Niah, is the manager of Skate King — another step in her increasing leadership role at the business her father launched 50 years ago. As founder and CEO of Skate King Corporation, Mathew opened Skate King’s first location in his hometown of East St. Louis in 1970. The city’s only skating rink had closed amid the racial unrest of the 1960’s, and opening Skate King—originally named the Martin Luther King Memorial Rink in honor of the legendary activist—established a family-friendly space for locals to gather for fellowship and strengthen the community.
Today, Niah operates and manages Skate King’s flagship location in Pine Lawn, putting her MBA to use as she dives into St. Louis’ thriving small business community with a strong entrepreneurial legacy already under her belt.
“I was born with skates on, let me just say that,” says Niah, chuckling lightly. “I’ve always tried to fill my dad’s shoes. I’ve always been on his heels, trying to walk in his footsteps. He’s been very influential in my life, and now as a businessperson, he’s continuing to be very influential from the skate floor to the board room.”
As Niah and Mathew skate back down the rink’s straightaway, Niah giggles at something her father says, matching grins stretching across both her and Mathew’s faces. As they approach the rink’s railing, they adjust their direction gracefully, never once looking down or pausing their chatter. They exit—first one and then the other—and skate across Skate King’s colorful geometric carpet to rest at the rink’s benches.
“Ever since I was little, the employees and even the skaters themselves have grown to become a family. [That’s] skate culture. They consider themselves family,” Niah explains. “I feel like a lot of people look at Skate King as their sanctuary for releasing the tensions of the day. A lot of people in the community really rely on Skate King, and I really want to continue the legacy on so that the staple can stay here for years to come.”
As Niah steps into her father’s four-wheeled shoes professionally, she pulls from her own upbringing at the rink, Mathew’s business lessons, and Skate King’s own rich history to keep the venue’s incredibly welcoming atmosphere front and center and continue to bring new audiences through the doors. As more young families move to St. Louis and its surrounding neighborhoods, venues like Skate King provide affordable, active fun year-round and regardless of the season. The rink hosts everything from birthday parties and family reunions, to themed nights and festive work parties. And their age-specific themed nights include an expansive range, from sessions for 13 to 17-year-olds to sessions for skaters 45 years old and up — something Niah and Mathew both say helps build skate fans for life.
“Those little ones are growing up in Skate King, and then having their little ones come and skate,” says Mathew, reflecting a moment on Skate King’s broad legacy. “Maybe three, four, five generations are representative of the Skate King family. We’ve just been extraordinarily blessed, and people know that this is a safe haven. They realize that when they drop their kids off here if they don’t stay, we’re going to take care of them.”
Skate King also makes a point of connecting philanthropic and fundraising efforts to their community-first vision, supporting local organizations as well as humanitarian efforts during Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and much more.
“Goodwill is such an important part of community. Letting people know that you care about the community through that goodwill is a very important aspect of caring through the business,” Niah explains. “When people see that you care, they care, and it’s a cyclical effect. I think that that’s one of the staples of the skating center at large.”
The venue’s multigenerational appeal has allowed it to serve as a haven for St. Louis’ smooth, silky, signature skating style through the years. While Niah and Mathew both insist they don’t have any particular skating style themselves, it’s clear the St. Louis glide is in their bones.
“St. Louis, and especially Skate King, has a very smooth style. It’s known for the ballroom skating, so it’s very smooth, very elegant. We want to look cool when we skate,” Niah says with a knowing nod. “[There’s] a glide with it. [There’s] a swag to it. We get the reputation of a smooth skate style around the region.”
Like any big family, Skate King is home to plenty of colorful characters and charming personalities that have become veteran regulars. Niah notes Skate King regular “Two-Wheel Tina,” a woman who uses only two wheels on each skate, balancing on a total of four wheels compared to the traditional eight. Another skater named Leo ups the stakes, skating on just one wheel each for a seemingly impossible two wheels total.
“We have some characters! I just love seeing people on the floor having a good time, enjoying themselves,” Niah says. “You just never know what you’ll see.”
And now the Foggy family has a third generation growing up at the rink, with Niah’s young son spending time there, just as she did. Reflecting on Skate King’s future, she sees him eventually playing a role in the business.
“He thinks he has skills now, so he does a lot of tricks on the skates. ‘Mommy watch me!’ He’s in that mode,” she laughs. “I hope that he has the same experiences that I had — fun, friendship and some family, and I pray that he creates that for his children.”
“There are not a lot of African American businesses in the community that can say, ‘I can pass this on to another generation.’” Niah adds. “That’s just a blessing in and of itself when you can say that this has been in the family for 50 years and pray that it can be in the family for another 50.
That longevity is something that Mathew hasn’t taken for granted.
“Skate King has filled a role that I never envisioned. The relationships that have been created over the years have just been enormous and such a blessing to us. We hear all of the time from people that say ‘I have no idea even how to skate’ how important Skate King has been to their lives and it’s just a tremendous blessing to know that we have that kind of effect on the community.
As he continues to transfer more responsibility to Niah and gradually step back from the business he created half a century ago, Mathew has high hopes for what his daughter can do.
“My wildest dream for Skate King’s future is to have skating centers across the nation. That’s a wild dream, but one that I think is very realistic, especially with the energy and knowledge that the new management brings to the table.”