When explaining the popularity of the “glow phenomenon” at roller skating rinks, Nick Champa said it’s not exactly rocket science.
“Have you ever seen what it looks like when someone waves a glow stick around in the dark?” asked Champa, owner of Champ’s Entertainment Complex in Lexington, Ky. “A glow stick will put a kid into a trance.”
Such is the hypnotic power of glow merchandise and “intelligent lighting” that Champ’s has utilized only black and red lights for decades.
“We don’t skate under white lights,” he said. “We’ve skated under black lights and red lights since the 1970s.”
A third-generation operator of the business, Champa said he has witnessed the evolution of skating rink lighting over the years. While some of these trends were inspired by the disco era, the lighting has long outlived the music.
“It really took off in the early 1980s with the fog machines,” he said. “The fog machines and the lasers really became popular. Lasers were big at skating rinks long before you saw cosmic bowling and trends like that.”
The emergence of glow-in-the dark merchandise and glow parties was a natural extension of these other novelty lights. “It comes down to what’s cool and what’s fun,” Champa said.
At his 50,000-square-foot facility, which has approximately 475,000 annual visitors, Champa also offers a glow-in-the-dark golf course and a laser maze challenge. One of the birthday party options at the skating rink offers glow sticks to each party guest, and the birthday child gets a flashing LED light.
“Whenever any of our employees see a kid with the LED light, they have to say, “Happy Birthday,’ ” he said. “We also sell other glow merchandise, like flashing pacifiers. We sell a lot of those.”
While Champa’s parties can come with glow stick favors, he said he doesn’t have specific “glow parties.”
“I don’t brand them as glow parties,” he said. “I’m not a flavor-of-the-day kind of guy. I think the novelty of the glow party is sort of like what princess parties used to be. It’s a trend, and it’s going to come and go.”
Charlene Conway also offers use of a black-light glow room as an add-on to birthday party packages at Carousel Family Fun Center in Auburn, Mass.
“For a $50 upgrade, they can have their party in our glow room,” said Conway, owner of Carousel. “The walls are all painted in glow paint, and the kids all get a bracelet, a necklace and a glow stick.”
Conway said the glow room parties are just the latest brainstorm in her ongoing quest for new party themes and ideas.
“We do a lot of repeat birthday parties, and so we try to come up with something new each year,” she said. “We don’t want it to become mundane, or just another roller skating party. So we like to offer new ideas, like this glow party, for a nominal upgrade.”
Along with the glow items offered in the package, some parents take it upon themselves to add their own distinctive flourishes.
“Some of them get really creative. We’ve seen glow-in-the-dark birthday cakes, or glowing T-shirts for the kids,” she said. “That really adds to the effect. Sometimes we also put out butcher block paper with neon magic markers, so the kids can draw while they’re waiting for their pizza.”
Overall, Conway said, the glow upgrade is a very easy way to revitalize the classic skating party.
“The moms love it, because they get this private room, a private setting away from the other parties,” she said. “The kids love it because it’s something new and fun. For a small upgrade, you really get a lot.”
Glow party rooms seem to be a burgeoning trend at skating rinks, not only to add a private element to a party, but because they are in popular demand among kids.
“We just go with what the kids seem to want,” said Dominique Lee, manager of Sparkles Family Fun Center of Gwinnett, Ga. “I don’t know who came up with the glow room idea, but it’s very popular with the kids who are having these parties.”
Sparkles has two glow rooms, including a cosmic 3D glow room.
“With our glow parties, the kids get glow necklaces, glow paper plates, glow napkins, glow mouthpieces,” she said. “Pretty much everything glows.”
Mike Pattison, owner of Pattison’s West and Pattison’s North Skating Centers, said he offers glow elements to birthday parties, and also sells glow merchandise out of his center’s novelty shop.
“We have glow party rooms, where you can rent the room as part of a birthday party package,” he said. “The glow party is more expensive than the standard party package, and comes with lasers, black lights and glow party favors.”
As far as the glow items sold in the store, Pattison said the variety of items has expanded significantly over the years.
“Back in the old days, it was just the glow stick,” he said. “Since then, they’ve come up with necklaces, light-up blinking fingers, glow-in-the dark shoe laces, you name it.”
According to Champa, the latest successor to glow merchandise is the LED merchandise.
“Lately, everything is LED,” he said. “If it’s not LED, it wants to be.” –