On June 6, the worst hailstorm in years pounded cars, roads, buildings and 52 teenage boys skateboarding in Memorial Park.
It was a mad, bloody rush as the juvenile horde grabbed boards and scrambled across the street to the basement of Burke Promotions, where a mostly hidden awning advertises all 1,050 square feet of Ethan's Room skate shop. The boys packed in like sardines, riding out the storm while owners Tim and Rita Burke, attended to their wounds.
In a way, it was nothing new. Even on a normal day, Ethan's is bustling. And the 52-year-old Burkes are plenty used to their role as neighborhood parents. In one especially eventful recent week, Tim splinted six arms.
Ethan's Room opened three years ago at 1616 E. Pikes Peak Ave., the result of some restlessness on the part of the Burkes, Montrose High School sweethearts who have spent decades in the advertising business. Inspired by the skateboarding expertise of their only child, then-17-year-old Ethan, and by the new skate park across the street from their ad shop, the Burkes decided to drop $5,000 and repurpose Burke Promotions' unused basement. Tim would run the skate shop, while Rita would spend most of her time on the ad business, helping as needed.
At first, Ethan's Room was fairly by-the-book. With Ethan's guidance, it sponsored a competitive team of skaters, providing them with gear and paying for their competitions. It sold boards and an assortment of other products.
But Ethan left for college, taking his knowledge with him. And Tim's focus changed as he began to notice problems at the park. Graffiti and litter were rampant. The teen skaters who came to his shop often spent all day at the skate park, sans supervision. Most didn't have money to spend on repairs for their boards. Many didn't even have lunch money.
Tim saw an opportunity to do something for the boys — and they are mostly boys — the park, and the community. He grabbed it.
"In these economic times, as unfortunate as it is, the skate park is the village," Tim says. "And it takes a village."
New kind of sponsorship
During the worst of the recession, when park trash wasn't being removed and grass was rarely mowed, many people joined the city's Adopt-A-Park program. Tim took on Memorial Park Skateboard Park, one of the city's most-used and highest-need park areas.
He's stuck with that commitment even as other volunteers have slowly disappeared.
"[They] are out there a whole lot more than the twice a month we require for the program," says Stacy Fritts, administrative technician for city parks. "It's a huge help to our guys, who could spend one hour to two hours a day just picking up litter."
In fact, Fritts says, Tim's become something of a "friends" group unto himself, organizing sticker removal and looking into mulches that won't drain into the skate park's bowls. But he's not alone doing all this; about 20 teenage boys help.
After Ethan left, Tim dropped his competitive team. He wasn't good at picking out competition-level skaters. Instead, he opened his team to any young skater willing to give back to the community. To join, kids must agree to do five hours of volunteer work at the skate park per week. In exchange they get free decks and other gear, plus free entrance to competitions, and store discounts.
"Some of these kids," Tim says, "don't have two nickels to rub together."
Kids come and go depending on their willingness to do the work. But Tim says that's OK. He's not out to drill the boys, just to slowly introduce them to adult responsibility.
Adrian Berg, 14, joined briefly and says being on the team was a "major confidence-builder." Plus, the work was worth the perks: "Five hours of community service is not bad if you need a new board," he says.
Kids get other deals, too. For instance, they can buy one item on credit; if they pay him back, they can borrow more. Tim also gives out 50-cent store credits to any kid who collects 200 cigarette butts from the park. And he asks history-related trivia questions, with prizes.
Even kids who don't want to take part in Tim's offers have come to see Ethan's as a place of refuge, and Tim as a friend. For one thing, Tim lets the boys use his tools and old parts to make emergency repairs to their boards.
"Pretty much everything Tim does, you can't do at other skate shops," says Tyler, 15. (Note: The Indy does not publish minors' last names without parental consent.) "Like, you can't come over and heat up your own food [at other shops] — like, we have no other way to do that but Tim's."
"Tim ... will give you, like, a used board for free," Todd, 13, adds. "So [if you break your board], you don't just have to sit around at the skate park all day doing nothing."
Adrian and his friends, brothers Justin and Cameron Como, 10 and 12, respectively, recall how Tim helped one kid find a lost iPhone, even after that same kid had "disrespected him." During bad weather, they say, Tim keeps his shop open late so the boys won't have to stand outside.
And as for the skate park?
"I think without Ethan's," Cameron says, "the whole park would pretty much be a dump."
The boys say Tim had reasons to pack up shop in the beginning. Some kids who hang around the skate park used to put down Ethan's, and pick on Tim. And Ethan's has been robbed seven times since it opened — the first time was five days after Ethan's opened, and the last just this month.
But Adrian, Cameron and Justin say Tim has won over nearly everyone with his patience and kindness. After the most recent robbery, numerous kids showed up to help Tim identify the perpetrators on a security video.
"People at the skate park, when they go in there every day and when they finally realize how much Tim respects you, then you start caring for it," Justin says. "Some of the kids that picked up trash, they didn't just do it to get on the team, they actually did it for Tim."
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