Rebuilding after a catastrophic tornado is hardly a given. And some Middle Tennessee businesses will still be under construction — or simply vacant — when the two-year anniversary arrives for the March 2020 storm.
But reopening can become a moment to rally a community. That was the feel on one recent morning in East Nashville, where Asphalt Beach Skate Shop opened its new doors for the first time.
Longtime regulars showed up to huddle around the checkout counter and browse the bins of bright roller skate wheels. The phone kept ringing. And there were woots of joy and plenty of photos snapped to spread the word on social media.
Also in the mix: first-time visitors like Nicole Shipp, or “Gizmo,” a roller derby player who timed a special trip all the way from Marietta, Ga.
“Everyone that has come out here, they’ve said this is the place to come if you don’t know what to get … they’re going to get you something that’s going to really fit your foot,” she said.
Shipp says the demands of roller derby burn through skates every couple seasons. So for her fitting, she wanted comfort and durability. She settled on a hand-sewn skate from Canada, and the skates were whisked off to the work bench for finishing touches while she shopped.
There aren’t many places with this kind of service. Or — after being scattered by tornado and pandemic — where you can swap roller derby monikers and nerd out about wheel textures.
“What I love about roller skates is just being able to customize them,” says local muralist and skater Nino C. Flores. “I like to express myself with what I wear.”
She bought her first pair at Asphalt Beach’s temporary location in 2020 and got hooked. She later asked the owner if she could paint a mural on the real shop once rebuilt.
Flores also wanted to try out the shop’s new indoor track. It’s a super-smooth oval — and one positive result of having to totally rebuild. Instead of making do with a former office space and several interior columns, it’s now wide open and more useable for skaters.
“We got so much room — look — I can swing this hammer around and not hit anybody!” calls out owner Steve Larios.
At the moment, he’s at ease as he ratchets wheels onto a purple suede skate in his lap.
But he’d had a lot more stress the prior few days. Moving in and getting the final permit from the city took longer than expected, which was sort of a final straw after what he calls an “ugly” past two years.
He starts back at the tornado.
“We were wiped out in, like, seven seconds,” Larios says.
His two cats were buried in the rubble. It was 19 hours before he found them.
“Some of those big roller derby kneepads fell on her first, which is what saved her,” he says.
The shop, which Larios has run since 2001, was a total loss.
Then came the pandemic, and his hunt for a temporary space, “which was not easy in Nashville.”
Among the immediate neighbors, Asphalt Beach fits somewhere in the middle in terms of recovery time. Larios knows some won’t be built back or occupied by the time the storm’s two-year anniversary arrives.
But most everything seemed familiar to Larios on his grand reopening day.
“It feels natural now, just another day at the skate shop,” he says.
That meant getting new skates onto the feet of Nicole Shipp, the roller derby shopper who’d been fitted about an hour earlier.
Larios helped her lace up, and within a few moments, they both went rolling around the indoor track.
Their gliding looked effortless after a couple of very tough years.