Last week a sign indicating the availability of the building for purchase was placed in front of RollAway Fun Center. The business has been a spot for entertainment for kids for over six decades. Anyone who grew up in Lowell has likely spent some time at 805 E Main Street.
At the turn of the 21st century a schoolhouse stood where RollAway exists now. In 1950 the building was sold to the American Legion. The group’s renovations included adding an addition which housed a bowling alley which was remodeled in 2003. In the 1960s a second floor was raised to create a roller rink. The year 1999 marked the installation of mini golf and in 2000 laser tag started being offered.
Bob VanNoller, current Owner and General Manager since 1995, has his own story leading up being the third owner of the establishment. As a pre-teen he frequented a skating rink where his father was employed. He took lessons and became an acrobatic skater. VanNoller experimented with drugs and alcohol in the 1970s. As a recovering alcoholic he found himself helping others facing addiction. He spoke to students and adults about his story hoping he could make a difference.
In 1995 when he purchased RollAway his goal was to provide school-aged kids a fun and safe option to hang out without the presence of drugs, alcohol or violence. As if it were meant to be, the business was purchased from the former owner and skating teacher at his childhood rink, to his surprise. During the first weeks upon taking over he witnessed five fights in which blood was drawn. He had his work cut out for him but he was up for the challenge. He established strict rules stating anyone who entered his building could not bring in drugs, alcohol, weapons, or start fights once inside. His high standards meant some kids were not welcome and some were permanently kicked out after warnings. Years later, as an adult, one of the kids VanNoller gave a permanent exit pass to returned to offer an apology for his behavior and a thanks for being thrown out. “How did you put up with me as long as you did?” was a question posed to Bob.
The Present Situation
Within the last couple of weeks Bob VanNoller made the tough decision to put the building up for sale. RollAway Fun Center is closed throughout the remainder of 2016 with the exception of private events. A lack of visitors during their Friday, Saturday, and Sunday open schedule lead to this decision. In January Bob will test the waters again and have open hours for the general public.
If business picks up the facility will run as usual until there is a buyer for the building. In the event there are not enough customers RollAway will once again only be open for special bookings. One contingency upon selling is VanNoller will have 60 days past closing before he gives up ownership of the building. Those wishing to make reservations for an event, such as a birthday party, should not hesitate making plans as long as they are not more than two months in advance.
Currently a decline in school and church events at the facility has made it difficult to keep the lights on. “The community built this. The lack of community support is tearing it down.” states Bob, referring to the American Legion building the establishment and the lack of community support leading to the decision to sell. The Lowell Middle School chess club, of which VanNoller is a part of as a coach, has their annual fundraiser on Jan. 6, 2017. Cherry Creek Elementary has skate nights for students throughout the school year with an event in December and January. Karen Wade from Flat River Antique Emporium in Lowell and Glenn Fountain from Saranac High School also use RollAway for successful events.
Due to a knee replacement in 2015 and another needed soon, Bob VanNoller is unable to continue owning RollAway Fun Center and income isn’t sufficient enough to hire a manager at this time. It hasn’t ever been about making money according to Bob but customers are needed to keep the doors open. It’s unsure what will become of RollAway Fun Center. Bob hopes someone steps up who wishes to buy and take over the current business. But he knows the end of the building being a fun center for kids could also come to an end. He also spoke of the Ionia Theater where different groups of volunteers run the facility which is operated and managed by the Ionia Downtown Development Authority and the City of Ionia stating he’d be open for local government or non-profits such as churches coming together to own, operate, and manage the center.
Those wishing to experience activities at the iconic RollAway Fun Center building will have the opportunity starting January 7. As long as visitors warrant keeping open hours the building will be open for bowling, skating, and laser tag on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Bob VanNoller has provided a venue for over 30 years and is now asking the community for help keeping the building a fun place to hang out.