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Skateboarders collecting money to soundproof room in Catonsville shop

A half-dozen skateboarders and a couple of spectators gathered at an indoor half pipe in downtown Catonsville on Aug. 2 and took turns dropping into the U-shaped ramp.

From speakers strategically placed around the room in the back of AWOL A Way of Life Skate Shop at 827 Frederick Road, Black Sabbath boomed loud enough to be heard over the thunder-like rumbling of skatebord wheels rolling across the plywood surface.

The thuds of an airborne skateboard hitting the ramp ricocheted around the room, often followed by fellow skaters banging their boards on the ground in approval.

But the noise was a problem for the Frederick Road Veterinary Hospital, which shares the building with the skate shop.

"You're at a hospital and you hear music and something in the background. It's not what we would want," said Dan Zakai, who, with his wife, Lisa, owns the hospital and the building.

"For clients, too, when they come into a hospital, they don't expect to hear festivities and things going on," he said.

Additionally, the skate shop and veterinary office share the same ceiling, which more easily transmits the noise, said Ben Munoz, the owner of the skate shop.

Munoz compared the stage where skaters stand as they wait to plunge into the ramp to a speaker box because it has nothing below it to absorb the sound.

Now the young skateboarders have taken it upon themselves to raise the $1,000 needed to soundproof the room.

Dan Zakai said he and his wife are open to whatever would work and would have no problem with skaters using the half pipe during the day if the noise is reduced.

Soundproofing would include adding a drop ceiling, filling the area under the stage with used tires or insulation and installing insulation on the walls, Munoz said.

"I'm not trying to charity-case this," Munoz said. "I'm a small business guy. I'm pretty much a one-man show.

"We want to teach ownership to it," Munoz said. "We're willing to take care of them. So when they're willing to help, it's a nice quid pro quo."

The fundraising movement started at the beginning of August and is just starting to gain momentum, Munoz said.

To raise awareness about the campaign, Munoz and his friend, area business promoter Patsy Anderson, arranged a ribbon-cutting ceremony for 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 8.

The ceremony will be broadcast on "In Other Words," an Internet radio show that Anderson and Susan Scher co-host.

"I just started to hear what a difficult time skateboarders have," Anderson said. "If there were children playing baseball in the streets, we build them a baseball diamond."

Starting small

Munoz explained that many of the five to 10 young skateboarders who glide up and down the ramp each weekday and many of the 20 who filter through on the weekend are regular customers.

It's those customers who have taken on the burden of raising the money to soundproof the ramp area, Munoz said.

Munoz, 36, moved to Kensington in 2000 to be closer to his parents, who are Catonsville residents, after spending most of his life in southern California.

When he arrived, Munoz said he thought Frederick Road would be the perfect place for a skate shop.

He eventually opened a store across the street from his present location in 2007.

Early in 2012, he moved his business across Frederick Road to fill a vacancy in the building that also houses the veterinary hospital.

Munoz opened the 12-foot-wide half pipe, which he built himself, to celebrate his store's fifth anniversary in May.

"We built that so the kids would have a place to recreate," he said, noting he informed the veterinary hospital of his plans.

"I don't think they quite understood we're not going to be knitting crochet back there," he joked.

With a week of the ramp's opening, the Zakais asked Munoz to limit use of the ramp to hours their hospital wasn't operating.

"Unfortunately, it was just too loud to have during our normal business hours," Dan Zakai said.

He added that Munoz has been a good tenant and has honored the request to limit the hours the half pipe is in use.

"I totally understand where they're coming from," Munoz said.

Munoz charges $2 for boarders to skate Mondays through Thursday from 7 p.m. until close at about 8 p.m.

On Fridays, skaters can come in at 5 p.m. and stay until close at 8 p.m. for $2.

Weekends cost $3, but riders get to ride from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

A place to go

Munoz runs a casual shop where customers play Xbox, watch skate videos or just hang out when the store's open.

When one of the skaters entered his store on Thursday night, Munoz asked if he was going to get money from him this time.

The teen sheepishly answered no.

Munoz responded with a smile and told him to go have fun on the half pipe.

Jarrad Martin, a freshman at Catonsville High School, has skated at the store most nights since it opened.

He started raising money on July 31 by talking to customers of the store about the ramp.

"At first, they don't understand what it's about or why," he said.

Before Munoz built the ramp, Jarrad, who had raised $15 for the ramp as of Aug. 2, skated in the streets or at the Baltimore County-run skate park in Lansdowne.

Sean Belt, 13, a freshman at Mount St. Joseph High School, has skated for nine years because he enjoys it, he said.

The ramp often has people lining up outside the shop's door before it opens because it's a good place to learn new tricks, he said.

"It's something to do in the day besides sitting around and watching TV," Sean said, noting he has donated $1 to the cause so far.

A successful renovation to the ramp would mean that the shop, located about midway between Catonsville and Hillcrest elementary schools, could offer lessons and even a summer camp, Munoz said.

Neal Rodgers, a 2012 graduate of the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, has made the trip from Pikesville to Catonsville several times a week to use the ramp.

He said it's a great place for skaters.

"It gives kids a good place to be, as opposed to being around town doing random shenanigans," the Catonsville native said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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