By Joel Hall
The "big skate" in front of Buster's Fun Factory has been a notable landmark since the 1970s.
"It's kind of like the Big Chicken of the Southside," said Buster Cato, owner of the once-popular skating rink. His comparison is to the 56-foot-tall chicken that sits on top of the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Marietta and serves as an important directional landmark.
At the end of the year, the skate will come down when Buster's Fun Factory on Roundtree Road and Highway 85 in Riverdale, shuts its doors permanently.
"It's been on the market now for about five years, and nobody bought it until now," said Cato. The property has a value of roughly $2 million, he said.
Cato, who managed the rink under the name Sparkles, began leasing the building from Skating Rinks of North Georgia three years ago, with the understanding that it could be sold, if a suitable buyer came along. It was scheduled to shut down on Nov. 1, but was given an additional 60 days to operate in October.
Now, by the third week of December, Buster's Fun Factory will close down to make way for AutoSmith, a used car dealership, which recently bought the property.
While some local shop owners see the closing down of Buster's as progress, Riverdale city officials and local skaters see the end of the skating rink as the end of an era of fun.
Riverdale City Councilmember Michelle Bruce remembers skating at the rink when she was as a teenager and the place was known as the Tara Skating Rink.
"It's been around for years and it's been through a lot of changes," said Bruce. "It's a landmark ... it's got a lot of history."
Bruce said that since the 1970s, the rink has been a safe place for children to congregate after school and on weekends. The council member said that Buster's Fun Factory has co-hosted many events with the city, schools, and local church groups.
"It's going to be a big loss," said Bruce. "As city officials, we can't tell people who to sell property to," however, "it's still going to hurt the community. The kids will have nothing to do."
Over the years, the skating rink has reduced its hours to weekends only. Some Riverdale shop owners have complained that the building attracts juvenile delinquents, and is empty for most of the week.
"The skating rink closing for me is a good thing," said Tyhessia Windom, owner of the Paisley Park Hair Salon, across the street for the last 13 years.
"During the day, it is empty, and during the night, when there is a function, there's always police outside. I think it could be used for something better," Windom said.
Shehnaz Kurani, 16-year owner of a nearby Custom Cleaners, said that the property has been in decline. "It's kind of like a dead area," said Kurani. "When it used to be Sparkles, it was good. We've always seen that area full, but lately ... no. If they want to stay, they should keep it open the whole day during the week."
Customers of the skating rink, however, have a different view. Some believe that the rink is one of the few places in Riverdale where children of all ages can interact with their friends and family.
Christian Colter, a fifth-grade student at Church Street Elementary in Riverdale, said skating on the weekends kept him and other students busy. "When you're lonely, this is a place where you can meet up with all of your friends," said Colter.
Consuelo Turner, an 11-year Riverdale resident, said her children, who are now in their later teens, have been coming to the rink since they were in kindergarten.
"There are enough car lots here, but there aren't enough places for these kids to go," said Turner. "I've visited other skating rinks and they don't compare to this. It's something you can do as a parent to relate to your kids."
Regina Saunders, a Riverdale parent, said that she brings her only daughter to the rink so she can socialize with other children. "I think they should leave it open, simply because it is an outlet," said Saunders. "If [kids] weren't here, they would be out on the street. At least here, they can blow off some steam and burn off a lot of the energy that kids have."
While the fate of Buster's Fun Factory is certain, the fate of the big skate is still unknown, according to Cato.
Bruce hoped that it would be preserved in some kind of way. "That is a huge landmark,"Bruce said. "I hope that they won't throw it away. If they don't use it, I hope that they will give it to the city."
"I would love to see it preserved," said Cato. " I don't know if AutoSmith would mind it being there. It may promote their business, too."