WHEEL-LIFE DRAMAVISITING THE GODMOTHER OF SKATES
As a young man with spiked hair, earrings, and a skateboard under one arm walks into her store, Sandie Hamilton smiles and greets him like an old friend. After chatting with Sandie, the boy drifts over to the counter and starts searching the room for a familiar face. He didn't come to Sidewalk Surfer to shop; he is there, like the majority of the kids in the store, to hang out.
On a typical afternoon, progressive-rock music fills the air while the skaters play with Iggy, the store's Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. Outside, several more skaters roll up and down the sidewalk.
That customers come into Hamilton's shop on Scottsdale Road to congregate as much as to make purchases is one of the things that has made Sidewalk Surfer a Scottsdale institution. A fixture herself, Hamilton has been selling and renting wheels for so long that some of her early customers now send their kids to her shop. But the constant presence of young skaters around her store has also caused problems. Since Hamilton opened her first store in 1977, she has had to relocate it twice. Neither move was voluntary.
Last June she moved out of the Indian River Plaza on Hayden Road (where she had been for eight years) after tenants there became so enraged with her clientele that they sent a petition to the shopping-center management threatening to file a complaint with the Scottsdale City Council if something wasn't done to curb the number of skaters zipping around Hamilton's store.
"We had a lot of problems," said Jack Lampert, whose shop, Nature Alternatives, is located in the center. "We were really worried that one of our elderly customers would be run over by a skateboard."
Carl Cote, whose bar, Stooges, is next to Sidewalk's old location at Indian River Plaza, says he was so upset with Hamilton's customers that he would regularly call the police. Most of Cote's customers are middle-class, middle-aged and male. They are the gas-station attendant, the insurance salesman, and the police officer, all of whom stop at the pub to flirt with the waitresses, watch sports and drink. Needless to say, they don't skate.
"It was awful," Cote said, "but things here have been nice, nice, nice, ever since they left."
Friction between Hamilton and her neighbors is no surprise. Most of the regulars at Sidewalk Surfer are high schoolers in the skating subculture. Interested in little else but skating, they are naturally drawn to Hamilton's shop. Hamilton also had problems at Scottsdale Civic Center, where she had her first shop. Management there refused to renew her lease in 1984, she says, because of her customers.
Despite problems with angry neighbors and shopping-center management, Hamilton has done quite well.
In 1977 she quit her job as a school-bus driver and opened Sidewalk Surfer with $3,000 worth of merchandise. That first year, she says, she made about $5,000. Her new store on Scottsdale Road has more than $300,000 worth of merchandise, she says, and she grosses about $1 million a year.
Skateboarding has waned since its popularity peaked in the Eighties, but Sidewalk and similar shops have kept their customers by selling the ice-skate-style roller skates called rollerblades, in addition to skateboards, snowboards, regular roller skates and the trendy "surf wear."
Tim Dowds, who has worked at Sidewalk for 14 years, says his boss has been successful because she knows how to deal with the kids.
"Everyone really respects her," he says. "I always think of her as a second mom, and I think that the kids who come in here a lot do, too."
Hamilton, a slightly built middle-aged woman with leathery features and a voice made raspy by too much smoking, denies that her customers caused any serious problems. In fact, she maintains that her store keeps kids out of trouble, rather than getting them into it.
"I can honestly say that I don't know any skater who is on drugs," she says. "They are too busy skating to get into any trouble. They aren't bad kids. They just have to have something to do."
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