University of Wisconsin-Stout junior Emma Johnson can’t remember a time she couldn’t roller skate.
The La Crosse native manages the High Roller Skating Center in Eau Claire that her family has owned since 2014. Her parents, Mark and Amanda Christianson, also own the High Roller Skating Center in La Crosse.
Johnson, who is majoring in hotel, restaurant and tourism management and golf enterprise management, works full-time at the skating center, on Melby Street on the city’s north side, while being a full-time student.
Roller skating and helping with the family business has always been a part of Johnson’s life, and she loves it. “I have no memory of learning how to skate,” she said. “I can always remember knowing how to do it.”
As manager, Johnson does everything needed for customers of the skating center. She sells tickets, picks music, announces games and helps with parties at the center, delivering food and beverages. One moment she can be seen holding a rubber chicken for a game, then helping customers pick out skates and then helping cook pizzas. “I love that’s what I get to do and get paid for it,” Johnson said.
Meeting families and watching young children build friendships that continue for years is the best part of her job, Johnson said. “I love all the kids that come in here,” she said. “They show us their report cards. They will ask for help with homework. You don’t realize how important you start to be to them.”
Customer service is very important to her, particularly when it comes to birthday parties. The center has six themed party rooms, including a White House presidential one, Candyland based on the popular game and an under-the-sea theme room.
“Parents get about eight good birthday parties from when kids are four to 12,” Johnson said. “Those precious memories depend on how well we do our job. You need to have customer service down. You’re working in an industry where you are serving other people for a specific purpose.”
The supervisor at the skating center is Ben Wisniewski, a UW-Stout junior from Maple Grove, Minn., majoring in the same two programs as Johnson, his girlfriend.
Johnson hesitated to hire Wisniewski because they were dating, but after he filled in once when she was short-staffed customers raved about him, she said.
“I love making kids smile,” Wisniewski said. “This job has taught me hard work and patience and the understanding of customer service.”
Johnson is a tremendous manager, able to work through any issues and diffuse problems, Wisniewski said.
Bob Loney of Chippewa Falls skates regularly at the center and said Johnson does an amazing job managing it. “She has a great attitude and is very friendly,” he said. “She’s incredible.”
Recently Johnson took some requests for some old-time music that Loney loves, including Doris Day and Jimmy Rogers.
“I have skated since I was young,” Loney said, as upbeat dance music played in the rink and green, red and blue lights flashed around a silver disco ball. “It’s good exercise. It is just something I love.”
Rachel Geissler of Chippewa Falls has skated the past year with her three young children. They recently bought a family pass so they could skate more often. “It’s awesome exercise in the wintertime when you don’t want to bundle up and be out in the cold,” she said. “It’s something we all enjoy. It connects us. The music is awesome. The lights are incredible. The floor is smooth and it’s clean. Every time is fun.”
Other UW-Stout students who work at the center include:
- Matthew Stark, a junior, majoring in construction, St. Charles, Ill.
- Lydia Fetter, junior, retail merchandising and management, Hudson
- Taylor Hansen, junior, business administration, Prairie Farm
- Tyler Andres, junior mechanical engineering and applied science with physics concentration, Auburndale
When her family bought the Eau Claire center they spent three months basically gutting it and remodeling the interior, Johnson said. “People don’t realize how much work a rink is,” she said.
Johnson, a first-generation college student, picked UW-Stout because it offered the majors she was interested in. It just happened the school was close enough to let her manage the family skating center.
In her first year at UW-Stout, Johnson had an internship at The Westin hotel in Milwaukee. She was hired specifically because of her experience working in family skating centers. She ended up running housekeeping while there because of her management experience.
Johnson and Wisniewski are scheduled to graduate in May 2020. Johnson wants to work in the corporate offices of Disney or for a cruise company. Wisniewski eventually wants to own his own golf course.
Working with her family for many years has been rewarding for Johnson. “Their work ethic is the number one reason I’m so successful,” she said.
Working and going to school is very important to her. “It feels so good to be a full-time student,” she said. “I think I have so much respect for it because I’m the first one in my family doing it.”
UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.
UW-Stout junior Emma Johnson, at right, manages the High Roller Skating Center in Eau Claire that is owned by her family. The skating rink supervisor is UW-Stout student Ben Wisniewski, at left. / UW-Stout photos by Pam Powers
The skating center has taught Johnson the importance of customer service and creating memories through birthday parties and other special events.
Working with her family has been rewarding and taught Johnson a work ethic.
Four other UW-Stout students work at the skating center with Johnson and Wisniewski who recently serves customers.
Johnson can’t ever remember not skating. Her family also owns the skating center in La Crosse.