A group of roller derby queens is making a new home for themselves in downtown Santa Rosa, turning a former furniture store into a skating rink where they hope to host bruising bouts for up to 700 people.
For the past two weeks, members of the Wine Country HomeWreckers roller derby team have been ripping up rugs, hauling away debris and polishing floors — often while wearing their skates — as they transform the former Furniture 2000 store on Mendocino Avenue into an entirely new type of venue for the downtown.
"When we look at this space, it has endless possibilities," said Mari-Dantia Almeida, who skates under the name D. Enforcer.
After-school skating programs, roller derby bouts for up to 700 spectators, live music and a variety of other special events are envisioned for the 13,000-square-foot space, which Almeida and two other veteran skaters are investing in and plan to lease back to the league.
The HomeWreckers, the main team in the Sonoma County Roller Derby league founded in 2007, needed to find a new home after a faction loyal to the Cal Skate roller rink in Rohnert Park formed their own league, the Resurrection Roller Girls, and elbowed them out.
The rift occurred in February largely over differing views about how the league should be managed, including whether they should seek larger venues given that their bouts at Cal Skate were selling out.
The HomeWreckers wanted to grow, but Resurrection Roller Girls opted to stay put. The HomeWreckers are also pretty hard-core. The premier team in the Sonoma County Roller Derby league, the team is highly competitive and a member of the national Women's Flat Track Derby Association, the major leagues for the fast-growing sport.
Asked how the HomeWreckers differ from their sisters at Cal Skate, Erica Hart, a.k.a Honey D. Linkwent, pulled open her lower lip to reveal the letters SCRD tattooed on the inside.
"Dedication," she said.
Despite their differences, Hart said skaters in the two leagues remain close and supportive of one another.
"It's like Mom and Dad got a divorce, but we're still sisters," she said.
Almeida said she's still amazed by the way the backers of the Resurrection Roller Girls were able to gather support for the new league and quickly secure a contract with CalSkate for their old time slots.
"It was one of the most calculated corporate takeovers I've ever seen," Almeida said. "I was like, &‘Wow ladies, that's pretty impressive.'"
The eviction sent the gals from Sonoma County Roller Derby looking for a new practice rink as they continued to host bouts drawing more than 1,000 people at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. They now say it's the best thing that could have happened to them.
Initially, the HomeWreckers were just looking for a cheap warehouse where they could practice and perhaps host smaller events. But when they stumbled across a large vacant downtown space, they realized they had an opportunity to create a multi-use venue that could bring some significant visibility to their growing sport.
The venture is the latest example of a vacant retail location being repurposed for a sports or entertainment-related use. The former Levitz furniture store in Rohnert Park, which went bankrupt in 2008, became a paintball facility while the nearby former Linens 'n Things store reopened as an indoor go-cart track in 2009.