Lexington, KY – When they purchased The Void Skateshop from its original owner in 2006, Reid Small and his wife, Colleen, were fully aware that they were investing in more than a place for local skaters to get their wares. As an unspoken rule, the role of a skateshop has always been multi-faceted: providing a place for beginners to get their bearings (literally and figuratively) and learn more about the sport; sponsoring promising athletes in regional and national skate competitions; and, perhaps most commonly, serving as a central hub and homebase for the local skateboarding community.
Celebrating 15 years of business this year, The Void has served all of those roles and then some. Under Small’s helm, the shop has produced three skateboarding films, hosted four annual bike swaps in conjunction with Bike Lexington, screen-printed up to 50 different logos (locally designed, mostly by Small himself) on hundreds of t-shirts, and organized a number of skate competitions and other community events, in addition to keeping local skaters supplied with boards, wheels, grip tape, shoes and other skate necessities.
“It’s all about community building,” said Small, whose approach to every aspect of his business – “as much hands on as possible” – is designed to show people that they can do things on their own.
Evidently, the approach resonates with the community that surrounds his shop, as was demonstrated one day last summer when the shop teamed up with local tattoo parlor Charmed Life Tattoos to offer free Void tattoos. More than 25 Void loyalists were branded for life.
“That’s probably our only event that has happened only once,” Small clarified with a smile, emphasizing that most Void-sponsored events, such as the Bike Swap and Halloween Skate Fest competition (held at Woodland skate park and celebrating its 5th year in 2011), are family-friendly, annual events, geared to strengthen the skateboarding community and provide activities for non-skaters as well.
Naturally, the skate park at Woodland Park, which is visible from The Void’s front stoop, is part of the shop’s lifeblood, though the park was in the early planning stages when Small’s predecessor, Tony Connor, opened the shop in 1996.
“For more than 20 years, skate shops have been in this area. This is our third location, and we’ve never been anywhere but the Woodland Triangle,” said Small of the shop’s High Street location. Small is also a founding member of the Woodland Triangle association and a strong promoter of the unique and independently owned shops that inhabit the area.
Though a number of surrounding communities have since built skate parks that exceed the size and scope of Lexington’s, the Woodland skate park, with 12,000 square feet of ramps, platforms, bowls and pipes, was one of the most state-of-the-art in the region when it opened in 1999. Randy Cruse, a marketing manager with the city’s Division of Parks & Recreation, says the park resulted from a collaborative effort of young skate enthusiasts, including Connor; the Aylesford Neighborhood Association; Parks & Rec; and perhaps most notably, the Triangle Foundation, an organization that operates under the mission of establishing privately funded projects that benefit the public (other Triangle Foundation projects include Triangle and Thoroughbred Parks). The organization took a special interest in the park’s creation, going so far as to fly Connor and other skateboarders to other parts of the country to research (i.e., skate in) already established parks, and provided much of the park’s financing.
“They truly built a magnificent, at the time one-of-a-kind, really unique park,” said Cruse, who has worked closely with Small on a number of community events at the park.
“When I moved to Lexington in 2001, it was the only outdoor concrete skate park in the state, which I thought was amazing,” Small said. “In Bowling Green, where I’m from, there was not a huge skateboarding community, there was not a cool local skateshop, and it seemed very different, very less accepted.”
Accepted or not, Small started skateboarding when he was about 8 years old, by the time he was a teenager, skating had become central to his identity.
“Some of my best friends (and I) grew up learning about the world through the eyes of a skateboarding teenage guy,” he said. Today, as a 28-year-old business owner with 20 years of experience, his perspective on skateboarding has broadened. Not only is it a hobby (and for Small, his bread and butter), it’s become an art form, a competitive sport, a cultural outlet, and – perhaps its most overlooked faculty – a viable mode of transportation.
“(Skateboarding) is 10 different things to me, and to most people who skateboard,” said Small, who finds himself behind the wheels of a car, or even on a bicycle, with increasing infrequency. “Personally, I view my car as just one thing. It’s not inspiring, it doesn’t bring me pleasure in a fulfilling way at all – I feel more and more alienated by it.”
To that end, Small has developed a program designed to get more people onto skateboards, by recycling parts from donated, used skateboards -
boards that are “already thrashed” – to create reclaimed and refinished boards, fully equipped with new wheels, trucks and bearings. The boards, which he markets as “recycled green cruisers,” sell for $50, at a very minimal profit to The Void. That’s about half the retail value of a new skateboard, and likely less than filling up a tank of gas.
“What we charge you for is the wheels, trucks, bearings and grip tape, and we give you the wood back for free,” said Small, who encourages skaters to donate their used boards to the cause when they purchase new ones. “It’s kind of our way of giving back to the community and the town. We know what it’s like to be without a skateboard or transportation, and we want to try to offer that option.”
With a growing international focus on energy alternatives and reducing carbon footprints, focusing on the inherent “green” nature of skateboarding seems a natural move.
“We all have to get around, but you don’t always need a car to do that,” said Small. “The idea is that by doing this simple thing frequently, you’re changing your life and in return hopefully changing the world, and the world’s view.”
Of course, saving the planet might not be at the forefront of most young skateboarders’ minds, and Small doesn’t discount the fact that first and foremost, skateboarding is fun.
“When you see guys skating on the street, and how much fun they’re having, you would think more people would want to ride around on four wheels,” he said.