What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us
COVID-19

Pandemic drives backyard ice rink boom

Britta Greene Jan 18, 2021
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Shea Finnegan, age 6, skates with friends on Dec. 13, 2020. Allen Ratai built this rink outside his family home in Duluth and has been helping friends build their own rinks this year, as well. James Napoli
COVID-19

Pandemic drives backyard ice rink boom

Britta Greene Jan 18, 2021
Heard on:
Shea Finnegan, age 6, skates with friends on Dec. 13, 2020. Allen Ratai built this rink outside his family home in Duluth and has been helping friends build their own rinks this year, as well. James Napoli
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Backyard ice rinks are something of an annual tradition across the Upper Midwest. This year, though, interest in rink building has soared as families look for activities to get through the cold winter months.

In Minneapolis, Andy Small — father to two young kids — has been working on a rink with his cousin Adam Ciardelli. By early December, they’d constructed a small frame out of two-by-fours and plywood, supported by cinder blocks around the edge.

It’s nothing too fancy, but the prospect of having a place to skate right out the front door was hugely exciting for the family.

Hockey has been on pause here for much of the season, though it has started up again in some places. Small said it has been difficult to find activities for his two kids to get involved in safely, particularly as the days got colder and darker. He has watched friends construct backyard rinks in the past and decided that this year, it was time to try his hand.

Andy Small and his cousin Adam Ciardelli inspect their progress installing an ice rink in Small's front yard in Minneapolis. After installing a plastic liner, they'll soon flood the rink with a hose, and let it freeze.
Cousins Andy Small and Adam Ciardelli examine their progress installing an ice rink in Small’s yard in Minneapolis. (Britta Greene)

“All the kids play hockey — my kids, my cousin’s kids, a lot of the neighborhood kids,” Small said. “So we thought, this is the year to do it.”

Families looking to take their installation process up a notch can purchase specialty parts from a number of suppliers, among them a company called NiceRink. In a normal year, NiceRink President Jim Stoller said, he might plan for 10 to 15% growth. This year, he said, that figure is in the triple digits.

“Fortunately for us, we got the COVID bump and not the COVID slump,” he said.

NiceRink works with a network of local dealers and installers. One of those firms in the Twin Cities area, Warner’s Outdoor Solutions, has seen demand grow 30 to 40% this year, said Jim Bever, who oversees Warner’s ice rink business.

An ice rink in the works in Lakeville, Minnesota, pictured on Dec. 8, 2020.
An ice rink in the works in Lakeville, Minnesota, being installed by Warner’s Outdoor Solutions. The company has seen demand for rinks climb this year. (Britta Greene)

“It’s been incredible,” Bever said. Even local restaurants have been calling, looking to convert parking lots into rinks for the winter season.

While some are hiring professionals, many are turning to friends and family members for expertise.

In Duluth, Minnesota, experienced rink-builder Allen Ratai said friends have been calling him all season, looking for advice on their first rinks. Some are taking on modest projects, he said, but others are going all out.

“I mean, we had the excavator and Bobcat bringing in hundreds of yards of dirt and leveling yards,” he said, referring to construction machinery.

It’s been fun, Ratai said, having a project to work on with friends and their kids — a silver lining of an otherwise tough year.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

Read More

Collapse

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.