Entrepreneurial pair hopes to bring back the glory days of the roller disco

close up of rollerskates

From smashing household items to roller-skating to the disco beat, local entrepreneurs Josefa Mampihaona and Michee Jean have the answer for Ottawans looking for unique activities.

In 2019, the pair launched Smash Rooms Ottawa, which promises stress relief through breaking household items. The Smash Rooms’ crew provides the rooms, the items and the cleanup. Mampihaona jokes that the “timing was perfect” for a stress-relief business, just before the pandemic, saying Smash Rooms has done well between recent lockdowns. 

Now, Mampihaona and Jean’s latest entertainment venture is a nod to nostalgia rather than latent anxiety. The pair is set to open 4 Wheelies, a 20,000-square-foot roller-skating rink at the former Ottawa Citizen building on Baxter Road. 

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“We want to bring back that culture that was big in Ottawa 40 years ago, that joy that people had,” Mampihaona explains. “This is a culture that is huge in the United States, where it has already seen a big comeback.” 

In fact, Mampihaona recently returned from Los Angeles, where he met with Moonlight Rollerway owner Dominic Cangelosi. Moonlight Rollerway has been in business since 1965. Cangelosi started playing organ there in the late 1960s and became the owner in 1985. 

“He showed me the ropes and their community,” Mampihaona says. “What the community wants, what has worked and what hasn’t worked.”

Mampihaona says 4 Wheelies hopes to offer something for everyone, from a night out that harkens back to roller disco, to a family day on wheels. The new facility will include a bar, arcade and party rooms, as well as a pro-shop and lessons. 4 Wheelies was scheduled to open in December, but Mampihaona says construction delays have pushed that to February 2023. Meanwhile, he continues to meet with the roller-skate community in Ottawa and farther afield. 

Alyx Gardner runs the Rideau Rollers online and pop-up store, Ottawa’s only dedicated roller-skate retailer after the closure of Neon Skates early in the pandemic.

Gardner, who launched Rideau Rollers last year and has the long-term goal of opening a brick-and-mortar retail store, initially reached out to the pair to discuss potential partnerships. 

“It came as a pleasant surprise,” Gardner says of the 4 Wheelies rink, noting that Mampihaona and Jean are new to the roller-skate community. “There has been a grassroots push from within the community, especially for more public or arena spaces to skate.” 

Roller-derby athlete Gloria Guns says interest in roller-skating grew dramatically during the pandemic and says demand for indoor venues is high. 

“We just don’t have a lot of spaces, especially in the wintertime, where they can do that. And I think the roller rink is going to be important because, from what I can tell, it’s going to be a very beginner-friendly space,” Guns says.

She adds that she will continue to encourage the City of Ottawa to provide indoor spaces as well. “It’s great that this one roller rink is opening up, but I think that we need more spaces beyond just that,” she says. 

Ottawa has no permanent roller rink. Instead, activities and lessons are offered at some city arenas, outside the hockey and skating seasons. The Ottawa Quad Rollerskating Club meets weekly at Carleton University and hosts events at the Horticulture Building. More advanced “park skaters” also use The Yard indoor skate and bike park. 

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