Skate shop coasts down the street

Skateboard enthusiasts from Louisa and from afar have come into town for eight years to check out Strange House, the little shop on West Main Street in the town of Louisa.

Now Frank and Margaret Molina have expanded into a much larger space down the street, the former Bailey’s drug store. On a recent afternoon punk rock music blared in the shop, the music Frank grew up listening to as he discovered his favorite sport.

“Back in the 1970s and 1980s, skateboarding was very punk rock, outside of the law, so to speak,” Frank said. “But I don’t think it’s really the same now.”

In fact, skateboarding has become downright respectable for many people, who bring their children in to pick out their first ride much as they might at a bicycle shop.

The Molinas started selling skater gear online in 2003 while they were living in Northern Virginia. They opened the Louisa store in 2011 and have been building their reputation since then as a haven for skateboarding purists. The boards are front-and-center in the store, the Molinas emphasize, not the accessories.

“When I was growing up, you didn’t go to a skateboard shop to buy a t-shirt. You went to get the skateboard you wanted to ride. Now skateboarding’s become a little bit of a fashion statement with kids,” Frank said.

Selling t-shirts, shoes and other accessories does command a much higher mark-up price than the skateboards, so the couple sells some of those, too.

A big part of their fan base is skateboard enthusiasts, who appreciate that Strange House is run by people who know the history of the sport and how its styles have changed over the years.

“When they call here they’re talking to the owners,” Frank added. “That’s a big deal to a lot of people. A lot of them are collectors and are very picky about what they’re looking for. They try to collect everything from a particular brand or model.”

Some shoppers want skateboards from the early days of the sport, when people would skate in empty swimming pools or in parks. Others spend their time in skate parks where they can do lots of tricks—Frank has boards designed especially for them.

Parents with small children are also a frequent sight in the store.

“For us it’s all about the customer service, helping the parent get the right deck for their child,” Margaret said. “Some people buy an inexpensive one for $25, what we call the first push, at Walmart. The wheels on those don’t spin very well. That does not promote the child’s skating.”

The Molinas arrived in Louisa around the same time a skate park was built next to the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center. But in 2012 the Health Department needed a new home, and the county government tore down the park to accommodate the state agency.

“We’re trying to convince them to build [another] one,” Margaret said. ‘When they tore down the old one, they were going to build another one somewhere else.”

The old Bailey’s soda fountain remains near the front door of the shop to honor the business, which closed in 2019. The Molinas are also keeping some of the other drugstore decorations on the shelves, and hope to get the neon light working again above the sidewalk.

As for the original Strange House space down the block, the Molinas are keeping it for Margaret to use for a yoga and fitness studio. That business is expected to take flight in the spring.

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