Thunderbird Roller Rink rolls with the changes, celebrates 50th anniversary

This summer marked the 50th anniversary of Plano’s Thunderbird Roller Rink. It was a bittersweet anniversary after longtime manager Terry Monjure died this spring of pancreatic cancer.

His son, Anthony, and Anthony’s partner, Sonya, began helping out around the rink a few years ago. They recently signed a new lease and plan to continue running Thunderbird on their own.

“We went ahead and decided to give it a try,” Anthony says. “We’re going to continue with improving the lights, adding snack bar options and things like that.”

The carpet that has been in place for nearly 30 years will soon be replaced. Anthony and Sonya also plan to update the video games and food menu, but don’t expect to see too many changes. 

When longtime residents step into Thunderbird, they are often surprised by how similar it looks to their childhood memories; Anthony and Sonya know nostalgia is a major reason many people come to visit. Still, they want to make sure the facility meets today’s expectations.

“It’s all about keeping a certain aesthetic,” Sonya says. “We don’t want to totally redo it. We are going to put some improvements in but keep the same look — just brighter and more colorful, like it was back in the ’80s.”

For years the popularity of roller skating has seemingly been in decline, and there are only a few dedicated roller skating rinks left in the area today. Yet at Thunderbird on any given weekend, there is a packed house, with families doing laps around the rink, trying their best to stay upright.

Anthony says many rinks are run by people approaching retirement age. From his vantage point, it seems like there aren’t a lot of people from the next generation eager to take over those facilities.

Part of that may be that a lot of work goes into operating a rink. Skates must be inspected and repaired regularly, and the rink must be maintained to provide the optimum experience and ensure safety. 

Then there’s the fact that skyrocketing real estate prices make every square inch valuable. A roller rink requires a large amount of space, not to mention adequate parking for visitors. Many investors figure they can find a more profitable use of the land.

“They think that skating rinks aren’t that valuable, but to a lot of people, they are,” Anthony says.

This summer, the crowds have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Kid birthday parties remain one of the biggest draws, and private events are on the rise. A group of seniors recently rented out the venue and skated the afternoon away to songs from their era.

Assassination City Roller Derby also returned this year and has been drawing big crowds. Sonya says she has also seen an increase in popularity among teens thanks to the show Stranger Things and its roller rink scenes.

She and Anthony say they decided to stick with Thunderbird because they truly enjoy it. 

“The fun thing is that you have these people coming in and telling their stories about birthday parties when they were kids and things like that. That’s the fun part,” Sonya says. “That and all the kids, and just seeing them so happy.”

Thunderbird Roller Rink
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