Change is inevitable, but the disappearance of small businesses is hard to accept





The neighborhood skating rink is closing. The owner announced it on the rink’s Facebook page, and reading about its demise was a gut punch. Not to be dramatic, but after 37 years, it was a landmark.

“End of an era,” posted the owner, and indeed it was.

This is where my children attended countless birthday parties and learned to dance the Hokey Pokey. Many times I joined them on the floor, eager to wear wheels again. As a kid, I loved skating around the block and the rink was a chance to relive those carefree moments, to spin and roll (and fall) without fear of looking like an overgrown fool.

The closing of the rink reminds me of an inarguable fact. As my hometown of Miami grows into a global city with flashy credentials and prices to match, the places that defined my suburban neighborhood are changing too. The skating rink announcement came on the heels of another closing, that of a greasy spoon known for its amazing breakfasts.

I occasionally met friends there, and a son sheepishly admitted that he and classmates sometimes skipped first period (aargh!) to enjoy eggs and hash browns in one of its booths. Driving the nostalgic point home, a daughter-in-law recalled how my late daughter and I welcomed her into the family at this restaurant.

The owner of the eatery delivered the news on a whiteboard: “Sorry folks; 43 wonderful years of great food, friends and our handsome Wally. We’ll [miss] you all.” In the window was a final eviction notice that surprised the regulars who thought the eatery would remain part of their routine forever and a day.

For both the rink and the restaurant, the end had nothing to do with a lack of customers. Chalk it up to skyrocketing rent instead. For instance, in the case of the skating rink, a new company bought the building that houses the rink. If the rink owner changes venues, the monthly rate would jump from $25,000 to $135,000. Admission then would have to increase from $15 to $90. No one will pay that kind of money to roll around concrete floors for an afternoon.

And as for the closing of the beloved greasy spoon, it’s hardly the only neighborhood eatery to fall victim to the inevitability of change. During the COVID-19 lockdown, two longtime family restaurants, one Italian and the other Chinese, struggled to get by. Hoping to keep them around, The Hubby and I tried to order takeout as often as we could afford.

We thought they would remain in their respective strip shopping malls with the help of government loans and loyalists. Then they went dark, and we blamed it on the pandemic. It wasn’t that simple, though. Turns out, the pandemic only proved to be a catalyst. The owners were older, with no clear business heir willing to take over. Faced with the economics of neighborhood success (aka rising rents), they retired rather than hanging on during dire times.

So, yes, the landscape of the neighborhood I’ve called home for more than four decades is slowly but steadily transforming, and I’m not quite sure about how to feel about the metamorphosis. I’m bummed one moment, then excited to see what will come next. Either way, there’s nothing I can do about the replacements except wish and wait.

Change is inevitable, we learn soon enough, the only constant in life. But enough with the national chains and cookie-cutter shops. I want something special, intimate, distinctive. Something you can’t find in every corner of every city with the same hackneyed décor. After all, nothing defines a neighborhood as well as a mom-and-pop place that builds tradition and creates history for those of us still here.

Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at avecianasuarez@gmail.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.