2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Colorado Springs losing valuable public service in skate shop closing

Published: March 7, 2014, 8:00 am, by Bill Vogrin
The $1 million, 40,000-square-foot Memorial Park skate park shortly after it opened in Dec. 2008. Gazette file photo.

The $1 million, 40,000-square-foot Memorial Park skate park shortly after it opened in Dec. 2008. Gazette file photo.

Tim Burke wandered around Ethan’s Room Skate Shop on Thursday and just shook his head.

The shop was dark and shelves mostly empty. No backpacks or gear hung in the lockers. No tools rattled in the equipment room. The board room, its walls colorfully tagged in graffiti, was quiet.

A few boards, shoes, shirts, sunglasses and Hacky Sacks remained. But soon they’ll all be gone.

030714 Side Streets 3Tim and his wife Rita may be gone, too, and some say it will be a huge loss to the kids who populate the Memorial Park skate park and to the neighborhood around Pikes Peak Avenue and Union Boulevard east of downtown Colorado Springs.

After five years of selling a few boards and gear, splinting broken bones, offering kids shelter from bad weather, a place to hang out and do homework, Burke gave up on Ethan’s Room.

“We can’t afford to operate the skate shop anymore,” Tim said. “It’s really sad because we really enjoyed working with the kids.”

Located across Pikes Peak Avenue from the Memorial Park skate park, Ethan's Room Skate Shop was convenient to skateboards. Tim and Rita Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, opened the shop in 2010 and recently closed it due to poor sales. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

Ethan’s Room Skate Shop was convenient to skateboards located in the basement of the Burke Promotions advertising agency. But the skate shop recently closed it due to poor sales.  Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

Shortly after the $1 million, 40,000-square-foot skate park opened in December 2008, Burke opened Ethan’s Room, named for their son who was an avid skater. To make room for skaters, Tim converted the basement of the family’s Burke Promotions advertising agency building at 1618 E. Pikes Peak Ave., across the street from the park.

Soon, Ethan was urging his dad to sponsor a skating team to promote the shop at competitions.
“I’d give them free stuff in exchange for five hours of community service,” Tim said, describing how team members picked up cigarette butts or pulled weeds or collected trash from the park.

“They were required to do it to be part of the team,” he said. “They had to be in school and a good citizen.”

Over time, the skater kids came to trust Tim and come to him for more than just boards and wheels and repairs.

Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, stands in the board room of Ethan's Room Skate Shop on March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita,  recently closed the shop, named for their son, after four years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, stands in the board room of Ethan’s Room Skate Shop on March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita, recently closed the shop, named for their son, after four years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

“We started it as a retail shop and ended up as a community service,” Rita said. “Kids came here to get out of the weather or to get help when they were hurt and they came to view Tim as a mentor.”

Tim tried to get kids to memorize the Declaration of Independence, for example, offering them store credits as rewards. And he became a guidance counselor who listened to their troubles and offered them advice.

“It was so rewarding being connected to the community like we were,” Tim said. “We were building relationships with these kids that were really special.”

For example, he tried to teach them how to deal with bullying and handle other issues they faced. And he rewarded good behavior, giving any kid interested 50 cents in store credits for every 200 cigarette butts they collected. Over the years, he figures skaters picked up 40,000 cigarette butts and hauled 20 tons of weeds and trash out of the park.

Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, holds a jersey he provided members of the Ethan's Room Skate Shop competitive team in a photo taken March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita,  recently closed the shop, named for their son, after five years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, holds a jersey he provided members of the Ethan’s Room Skate Shop competitive team in a photo taken March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita, recently closed the shop after five years operations.  Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

“They would tell me things they couldn’t tell their parents,” he said. “I’d give them straightforward answers and advice.”

I asked about a general perception among many in the public of skater kids as dropouts and vandals and juvenile delinquents.

I confess there was a time I would see kids with skateboards and sneer.

Then as I was riding my bicycle past the skate park in Goose Gossage Park one day I stopped to watch them in action. I quickly recognized their athleticism and skill and determination.

Over and over they would glide down the walls, jump, spin, grind and fall.

They had courage and toughness and reflexes and I came to admire them.

Tim and Rita agree skater kids generally are misjudged by folks who don’t take the time to understand them.

Most were really good kids from tough family backgrounds, they said.

“They are great kids,” Rita said, her voice rising. “You have to look at their circumstances. They are learning to survive and problem-solve in some really tough situations. They are growing up fast.”

Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, stands in Ethan's Room Skate Shop on March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita,  recently closed the shop, named for their son, after five years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, stands in Ethan’s Room Skate Shop on March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita, recently closed the shop, named for their son, after five years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

As we visited, in walked Debra Buenting a business woman and resident of the nearby Hillside neighborhood. She was disappointed to learn Ethan’s Room was closed.

“Where are these kids going to go?” she said. “This was much more than a skate shop. Tim was a counselor to kids.”

Tim Rowan, a health care consultant who met Tim Burke in a business group years ago, echoed Debra’s disappointment and concern.

“This is a disaster in our community,” Rowan said. “This is a tragedy to see it disappear. He had an incredibly positive influence in the lives of these young boys. He’s a surrogate parent to many.”

He described how Burke helped drive drug dealers out of the skate park, for example, or identify burglars caught on security video breaking into the skate shop.

“Who knows where they would hang out if Tim wasn’t there, listening to their woes — and there were many — offering his judgment-free advice?” Rowan said. “Hundreds of our kids will lose a mentor, role mode, a safe place to go.”

They are even losing a first-responder in Tim Burke.

Tim faced many teens with broken bones over the years.

“The worst was when I splinted six broken wrists in one week in July 2012,” Tim said. “We bandaged a lot of kids, literally and figuratively.”

The entrance to the closed Ethan's Room Skate Shop in the basement of the Burke Promotions advertising agency at 1618 E. Pikes Peak Ave. on March 6, 2014. Tim and Rita Burke recently closed the shop, named for their son, after four years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

The entrance to the closed Ethan’s Room Skate Shop in the basement of the Burke Promotions advertising agency at 1618 E. Pikes Peak Ave. on March 6, 2014. Tim and Rita Burke recently closed the shop, named for their son, after five years operations. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

Unfortunately, the Burkes said, they just didn’t sell enough skateboards and things over the years to remain in business.

“We closed last week,” Tim said. “We just didn’t sell enough stuff to make it work. I’m 54 and I need to start making some money for us. It’s just so sad.”

Rowan hopes folks in the community will step forward to help.

“I can’t think of a way to stop it,” Rowan said. “I wish there was some way the community could somehow change his mind.

“It was much more than a skate shop. It’s a real tragedy to see it disappear.”