The COVID-19 pandemic has shut off the neon lights at Minnesota roller-skating rinks, but one is pivoting operations to keep staff on the payroll while also supporting front-line workers.

Ed Golebiowski, who operates Cheap Skate in Coon Rapids, has been delivering pizzas — more than 300 to date — to Mercy Hospital staff daily for lunch and dinner.

"We're trying to make the best out of a bad situation," he said.

The pizzas are donated by sponsors who buy them for $20 to be delivered with personalized thank you cards. When the "Pizzas for Heroes" campaign launched four weeks ago, Golebiowski said, sponsorships were coming in from all across the country. Thanks to the power of social media, people from Dallas, San Francisco and Miami were contributing to the cause. Local residents and businesses continue to donate, many doing so anonymously.

Golebiowski said some of the notes from sponsors describe recently losing a loved one who was cared for at Mercy Hospital.

"Having that acknowledgment from the community goes a long way," said Ben Thomas, patient care manager in Mercy Hospital's emergency room.

Thomas said the cards are put on display for staff to see and "to keep people going through a hard time."

"It allows the staff to see that the community hasn't forgotten about us as this process has dragged on far beyond what we thought initially," Thomas said, adding that he recognizes the toll COVID-19 has had on small businesses as well.

At the Twin Cities' roller skating peak, rinks numbered in the dozens; now just a handful are in operation. Earlier this year, Woodbury's 46-year-old Wooddale Fun Zone closed, citing the pandemic.

Golebiowski, a board member of Roller Skating Association International, said rinks across the country are suffering because of the pandemic and resulting business shutdowns that include indoor entertainment venues.

"They can't afford to stay open anymore to stay idle," Golebiowski said, adding that rinks' primary clientele are school groups and birthday parties — both nonexistent now.

Still, there may be a neon light at the end of the tunnel: Roller skating has experienced a resurgence in popularity during the pandemic.

Bob Riegelman, president of Riedell Skates in Red Wing, said sales are through the roof, with thousands of skates on back-order.

"Who would've known that COVID-19 would be an accelerant," Riegelman said. "We've increased our production facility by 20% since April. All positive signs from our end; we just hope it continues."

For now, Cheap Skate's rink will remain empty. But the ovens will stay on as they wait to one day reopen.

"We're here and we're not going anywhere," Golebiow­ski said.

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751