Former Binghampton warehouse now home to thriving indoor skatepark

It started with a Facebook post in September 2017 to save Hazard County Skatepark in McDonough, Georgia outside Atlanta. The beloved skatepark lost its lease, and the owners had 18 days to vacate the building.

“I just saw a post online,” said Aaron Shafer, a fixture on the Memphis skateboarding scene. “One of the skaters posted it, I reposted it and said, ‘Hey, does anyone want to save these ramps?'”

The journey to Memphis from McDonough covered 400 miles, six days of deconstructing the park and six semi trucks. Three entrepreneurs and a handful of Memphis volunteers spent the next year rebuilding and remodeling a Binghampton warehouse.

On December 22, Society Skatepark and Coffee opened at 583 Scott Street in an industrial area a block off of Broad Avenue.

The space includes 10,000 square feet of indoor ramps and rails for skateboards, BMX, scooters and quad skating. Massive murals line the walls and music mixes with the sound of speeding wheels. The course’s crown jewel is its 10-foot vertical ramp, one of only a handful of that size in the country.

“A lot of pros got started in Atlanta … they grew up on this ramp,” said Mark Horrocks, co-owner of Society alongside Matthew Wrage.

But Society isn’t just a skatepark.

Customers are first greeted by a 5,000-square-foot retail space. To the right of the entrance, gleaming skateboards and stylish sneakers line the walls of Contact Skateboard Shop owned by Zac Roberts. To the left is Society’s cafe with its rich wood bars, countertops and tables built by Wrage. Wrage also co-owns CityWood, a custom woodworking shop located near the airport, and Society serves as its showroom. 

Society Skatepark and Coffee features a sleek and modern cafe with solid-slab wooden counter tops and tables made by co-owner Matthew Wrage. (Ziggy Mack)

The businesses may seem disparate, but they share common threads of craft and creativity. It's a hub for culture and communities — skaters, craft coffee lovers and entrepreneurs — to meet and grow.

“Part of our concept of space is yes it’s a skatepark, it’s a coffee shop, but it’s kind of the collision of culture, of art and music,” said Horrocks.

Society is the first brick-and mortar-business for both Horrocks and Roberts.

“In the grand scheme of things, Mark [Horrocks] and I know nothing about the skate world," said Wrage. "We’re just guys who happen to know a bunch of people in the skate culture, and we saw that there was a need.”

In the two months since its launch, Society has seen 900 individual riders from 25 states. 

Clare Moore drove for two hours from Cleveland, Mississippi with her son Gus and his two best friends to spend Gus’ eighth birthday at the park.

“We don’t have a skatepark. It’s flat so he gets bored,” she said. “I just think it’s a wonderful thing they’re doing.”

The partners say Society’s early success is due to the rarity of indoor parks, Memphis’ thriving skate community, the legacy of Hazard County Skatepark and a few unique offerings —affordable rates, competitions, classes and multiple businesses under one roof.

“Places like this help people stay in Memphis … different, unique spaces and places that people come together to build community and build relationships," said Horrocks.

“Our hope is that it continues to enrich the culture of the city for people who live here and people who come here and that it’s another element to the depth of the city that we offer here.”

Skaters line the most popular spot to drop into the course at Society Skatepark and Coffee in the Broad Avenue Arts District. (Ziggy Mack)

The Birth of Society

Wrage purchased the Binghampton building in 2016 as a retail shop for CityWood and secured a $25,000 ICED loan from the Memphis-Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine to help with renovations. When more space became available at CityWood's current location, he began to look for new opportunities for the Scott Street site.

Both Wrage and Horrocks are transplants but have lived in the city for nine and 12 years, respectively. They say they’ve seen many entrepreneurs taking risks on something untried. In the Broad Avenue Arts District, they point to neighbors like Five-in-One Social Club, Rec Room, Wiseacre Brewery and City and State.

When Horrocks saw Shafer’s post about Hazard County Skatepark, he approached Wrage with the opportunity. In less than a month, they formed a partnership, bought the park's equipment with their own capital and rallied volunteers to help move it.

They worked with Roberts, Shafer and other volunteers from the skateboard and BMX communities to remodel the warehouse and consulted with 30 other park owners across the country to hone their business model.

“The level of support was just unreal,” said Wrage. “In every one of my other businesses, I try and strive not to preserve knowledge but to spread knowledge. The skate community was just awesome and accepting in that exact way.”

Society also owes a debt to Skate Park of Memphis, which was critical to building local skate culture. It operated from roughly 2000 until 2009 when it, like Hazard County, lost its lease.

Society’s average skater is 25 years old, and many grew up skating at that indoor park.

“We wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for them,” said Horrocks. 

Eat, Shop, Skate

Society offers a day pass for $12 or a $75 unlimited monthly membership. On Saturday mornings, they host three all-ages classes based on skill level and on Monday nights offer an adults-only class.The park's membership rates are growing, and 20 people attended the most recent Saturday classes.

There’s also a viewing room overlooking the skate ramps for watchful parents, meetings and parties.

“The African American Bar Association had their board meeting here last week,” said Horrocks. “Part of the idea was that parents can come here and hang out, work on a laptop while their kids skate.”

The coffee shop has local roasts and sandwiches, as well as baked goods made in-house. Horrocks said Memphis’ craft coffee community has been as supportive as its skate community.

“None of us view each other as competition. We all want each other to grow and thrive,” he said. 

Contact Skateboard Shop sells boards, parts, safety gear, shoes and apparel. Roberts said he’s sold 125 boards in less than two months and hired two part-time staffers to help him and his wife manage demand. 

“The support and experience we’ve had so far has been more than we ever imagined it would be,” he said. “It’s just nice to see that Memphis will support a family business, a local business.”

Zac Roberts (far left) owns Contact Skateboard Shop located inside Society Skatepark and Coffee on Scott Street. The complex opened on December 22, 2018. (Ziggy Mack)

More for Memphis

The partnership said parents feel safer leaving their kids at a private indoor park than a public outdoor park like the City of Memphis-run Tobey Skatepark, located at 2599 Avery Avenue. And while use of outdoor parks is limited by weather and seasons, an indoor park like Society offers a year-round alternative to inactivity, delinquency and danger.

“Whatever we can give the kids to do that will keep them off the streets and out of trouble will help ultimately,” said Roberts.

They also said new ventures like theirs help improve the perception of Memphis' urban core for both area residents and more distant visitors. 

Nashville has its own indoor park, but Horrocks said many of its skaters come to Memphis weekly. Recent visitors from San Antonio traveled to Memphis specifically to skate at Society. Many of Atlanta's skaters who once rode the ramps at Hazard County have made the trek to Memphis, including semi-professional skater Eli Williams who visited in December. His on-location Instagram post got over 9,500 likes.

“Because we bought a park with a history on it, people know that in the skate community, and it’s just a quality park,” he said.

Not just for skateboarders, the course at Society Stakepark and Coffee allows BMX bikes, scooters and quad skates. (Ziggy Mack)

Keeping Momentum

Society is now planning for youth spring break and summer camps that would include instruction, lunch, activities and free play.

In April, they’ll begin hosting quarterly competitions for all age brackets and are in talks with national professional and semi-professional circuits to bring higher-stakes competitions. 

“It’s something that Memphis really hasn’t seen,” said Horrocks.

The partners expect a boost in business as skateboarding gains legitimacy. In 2020, it will be an official Olympic sport for the first time.

Society is also focusing on its art, music and cafe elements. They’ll soon make sandwiches, salads and paninis in-house and add two more baristas and a part-time baker to the current five-person staff and team of volunteer instructors. The cafe walls are slated to become a gallery for local artists.

On February 22, Society will host a hip hop freestyle competition, and in March they’re planning a latte art competition and cupping demonstration with Memphis-owned Vice and Virtue Coffee.

It’s another step towards reaching Horrocks and Wrage’s dream of a space for culture, community, coffee and skating that’s safe, inclusive and has something for everyone.

"It's really rallying a community of people," said Wrage. "This is just one more offering for the city. To offer people from three years old all the way up to 90 years old. Whatever they want to do, there's always room and ability in life to try and skate or start a new project."
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Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.