BRADENTON -- When Chris Maganias bought the iconic Florida Wheels Skate Center at 3611 3rd St. W., in 2010, he renamed it Astro Skate and Fun Center and said he would revitalize the place where generations of Manatee County residents learned to roller skate.
Maganias, 49, painted the outside purple, re-did the inside, hired teens to interact with the skaters, installed a manager every session, edited the music lyrics and added limbo, age group races, line dancing, face painting, hair spray, bounce houses and hula hoop contests.
He also installed a 4-6 p.m. every Sunday skate session that has a dollar admission
price, well below the usual $6 or $7 prices for other sessions.
"His thinking was that the customers would spread the word," said Don Von, a long-time manager.
It seems to have worked. Hundreds of skaters and their family pack the air-conditioned rink every Sunday for two hours of icy entertainment for a buck.
"It's cheap entertainment for the kids," Kathy Horner said Sunday.
The skaters who come here for the dollar skate tend to come over and over and over, week after week, Von said.
And, because of that, they've apparently become well known and even have their own fans, parents said.
For instance, some come just to see Palmetto's Sophia Whightsel, who is among the fastest 5-year-old girls on in-line skates in Manatee County.
"She was born to go fast on skates," said family friend Mindy Raysor.
Sophia, nicknamed the Bradenton Missile, fairly flies around the rink.
"I got her her first pair of skates when she was three and all she wants to do is skate and race," said the Mindy's father, Michael Whightsel.
Fans of West Bradenton's Abby Konicov, 5, call her the "Hello Kitty Girl" because every Sunday she wears Hello Kitty outfits along with zany accessories.
Her father, Gary Konicov, is always huffing and puffing a skate step or two behind the Hello Kitty girl.
Bradenton's Kyra Camacho, 4, has the nickname, "The Rock Star" because she always wears clothes that the characters wear on the Disney Channel and her fans think her charisma will make her a star one day.
"She likes to be here and hang with all the kids," said Kyra's aunt, Melissa Quattlebaum.
"We're so thankful the kids have this place," said Kyra's grandmother, Kathy Quattlebaum. "It's one of the last places that is reasonable enough that a whole family can go."
For other rink times and prices, call 747-8602.