Blade runners: Williamsons and icy synchronicity

In the business of winter sports, stagnation will land your company in the penalty box– or in the red.

Fifty-two-year-old Bruce Williamson and his wife, Roberta, needn't worry about that anymore, though. The entrepreneurial pair sank their teeth into the Charlottesville Ice Park in July 2003, and they've begun to realize that they have plenty of reasons to celebrate their one-year anniversary.

"We took over a business that had been in existence for seven years," says Bruce, "and we've made significant improvements." These include improving the plumbing and wiring, major upgrades to sound and lighting installations, a modern climate control system, and even a sporty new Zamboni.

As they can see– by way of their new set of cash registers– it has paid off. "People are always coming in, having seen the facility under previous management, and remarking how much more pleasant it is," says manager Mark Stankovic.

Nevertheless, the Williamsons hope that the best is yet to come. The Ice Park's busiest season lasts from September until February, and they expect the coming winter to win them customers of all persuasions, from fledgling Kerrigans to rowdy broom-balling hordes.

They're not about to put all their ice cubes in one tray, though– they're planning to drum up interest through new programming as well. "We've expanded the number of hockey teams in the league," says Roberta. They've also begun hosting a program called "Synchronicity." Roberta describes it as "basically a practice time for regional synchronized skating teams to come and do their routine in front of a judge without being judged, but getting advice on how they need to improve.

"It's the first time anything like this has ever been done in this area," she beams.

They're looking forward to other activities as well, including "lock-ins" for scout troops and expanded figure skating instruction. But the Williamsons aren't just a think tank– they love to get their hands dirty.

"They're very mom-and-pop," says hockey coordinator Jennifer Blanchard of their managerial style. "They're hands on: They're down here handing out skates, they're schleppin' popcorn, they're mopping..."

The previous owners, developers Lee Danielson and Colin Rolph, were locked in litigation in their final days, and employees have responded well to the Williamsons' new approach.

"We have a happy staff," says Bruce. "As we're getting ready to move into our second busy season, our staff is in great shape."

Between the snazzy new facility, the smorgasbord of programming, and the enthusiastic employees who will make it all come together, the Williamsons' remolding of the Ice Park is poised to gel. If they keep this up, by this time next year they may be triumphantly riding their Zamboni all the way to the bank.

Bruce and Roberta Williamson