In its third season, a little ice-skating rink in Brentwood is proving it has a lot of heart.
Brentwood on Ice owner Tom Gregory calls the seasonal rink a downtown event. As a lifelong resident with deep roots in the area, his intent behind the investment has been to bolster his hometown’s commerce.
“My daughters are sixth-generation graduates from Liberty,” said Gregory, who is also the owner of Got-A-Party. “I’m outgoing president of the chamber of commerce — if you cut me, I bleed Brentwood. The difference between us and the various events that happen downtown is that we’re 100% complementary to all these businesses. The average event — I love them, they’re fantastic — but what those events do is typically eliminate all parking downtown for the businesses. (Customers) come down, they eat, they drink at the event and then they go home. But with my event, a lot of people will come, they skate, then they go have breakfast or dinner, go see a movie ... In the course of its season, Brentwood on Ice brings more people downtown than any other downtown event.”
The rink, located on Second Street, has seen some enhancements this year. A 16 by 20-feet heated lounge with a flatscreen television and coloring books is now onsite for those family members who aren’t skating or need a break.
But some favorites have returned. Laura Carreon, three-time Figure Skating World Championship competitor, offers private and group lessons.
“When Tom first opened the rink, I was in contact with his daughter, because I was doing the vocal direction at Liberty High School,” Carreon said. “She knew my background and had approached me about what he was doing here. We started with group lessons the first year and people started showing interest in private lessons.”
Carreon and her brother originally competed at the national level for the U.S., since they have dual citizenship with Mexico. They then decided to represent Mexico during the World Championship and were the first alternates for the 2006 Olympics. After that, the two performed professional shows until Carreon was expecting her first child.
When not offering private or group lessons at Brentwood on Ice, Carreon can be seen skating around the rink offering feedback to skaters.
“There’s not a lot of common knowledge of basic skating skills, and sometimes parents don’t even know how to help their kids,” Carreon said. “My biggest concern is safety, for instance, when I see shoelaces undone or loose skates. I’m very passionate about being on the ice, and I’m just so happy to bring something I love to my hometown.”
Returning favorites this year include appearances from A Magical Princess, Princess Parties — a business launched by Tom’s daughter, Victoria Gregory, and wife, Tracey Gregory — which brings a touch of magic to the scene with characters such as Elsa, Ana and Olaf from “Frozen.”
“The most rewarding part is the customers, and watching them skate and have a good time,” said Tracey. “The little kids love to see the characters.”
Another important aspect for Tom has been to provide a low-key environment. Unless there’s a line and the rink is at capacity, skaters are not restricted by hourly sessions. If someone pays for entrance and skates, they can stay all day. The same goes for the skate buddies, the walkers that little ones can use to balance on the ice. There is only one fee, and if the rink isn’t busy, kids can use them for as long as they wish to skate.
“The only thing we do tell people is that if we get to capacity, we will have to get back to a two-hour session,” Tom explained. “The reason most rinks don’t do that is because they don’t want to buy extra skates, because skates are expensive. I bought 150 more pairs than I anticipated I’d need, and that’s worked out well for us.”
Even though the rink is in its third season, Tom said there’s still a learning curve. The first year, he learned the ice-melting culprit is wind, not the sun. Adding walls in addition to the roof helped mitigate that issue.
“This year, we realized that your ice can be too cold and too dry, and most people probably never consider that,” he said. “These nights lately have been so cold, it makes the ice brittle, and we haven’t been able to put the Zamboni out because it’s cracking like sheets of glass.”
While many have asked Tom if he plans to install a permanent rink somewhere in town, he said this kind of business is too tough to sustain year-round.
“Going into it, we knew this was the worst mathematical business equation I’ve ever invested in,” he said. “I was willing to foot the bill out of pocket, even if it doesn’t make money. So between the city grant and the sponsorship and what I’ll put in, this one can survive for now ... People always ask me, ‘Well, do you make any money?’ And I tell them, ‘I get paid.’ It’s not typically in money, it’s typically in watching people enjoying themselves.”
He reported attendance this year to be the best yet and hopes to sustain the costs until families continuously make Brentwood on Ice part of their holiday ritual.
The rink offers discounts to those who purchase in bulk or attend on Tuesdays, as well as those who serve. Tickets purchased 10 or more at a time are reduced to only $10 apiece, which can be used at a later time or as holiday gifts. On Tuesdays, a family of four can skate for $35, including skates. And veterans, fire and police officials receive buy-one, get-one-free discounts on Mondays.
“It’s doing exactly what I wanted it to do, which is bring people downtown,” Tom said. “Last year, we did Groupon and had visitors from all around the Bay Area ... We’re not corporate America; we’re downtown Brentwood. The nutcrackers were painted by local schools and daycares; local artists painted the lockers. We’re hometown.”
In addition to dubbing the rink a community event, Tom also calls it an item from his bucket list, which was brought to fruition by a life-threatening experience.
“Life is too short,” Tom said. “This rink is me telling everyone ‘happy holidays.’”
Brentwood on Ice is located at 739 Second St. in Brentwood. Hours are Monday through Thursday noon to 8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.