Skateboard shop goes big when it comes to promoting community
Since he bought it in1999 Aaron Polansky has helped transform Sky High skateboard shop from a place to pick up a T-shirt and some grip tape into a driving force in his Bay View neighborhood.
To the steady stream of kids who come to the shop after school to talk with him and look at the shop pet, a preying mantis named Petey, and the crews of older skaters who've permanently marked their allegiance to the shop by getting tattoos of 88---the the year that shop opened--- Polansky is as much of a community hub as he is a shopkeeper.
Polansky, who at 37 still finds time to skate a few times a week, bought the store from its former owners after spending years working at its former Highway 100 location, and the original store in Racine.
"At that time I knew that skateboarding was getting big again. The Tony Hawk video game was coming out for Playstation and I started seeing skateboarding in commercials," Polansky recalled. "I vividly remember there was like a Thomas English muffins ad that had a little skate kid with a backpack on and english muffins hanging out of his backpack."
With skate-parks popping up in the suburbs and the giant Four Seasons skate-park opening up in a warehouse in the Menomonee Valley, Polansky was quickly able to repay the loan he'd taken out from family members to buy the store.
"Everyone was coming in for boards and pads...It helped push me above and beyond where I needed to be so I could do all the stuff I wanted to do. After that it was sort of go time," Polansky said.
In those first few summers Polansky built dozens of wooden ramps, spending nearly every weekend setting them up at playgrounds around town and holding skate jams that drew dozens of local skaters.
"It was a good time. It was like a dream really," Polansky said.
When Polansky moved the shop to the Bay View location in 2004, he brought his desire to build community with him.
In an early project he reached out to 10 small businesses in the neighborhood like Rush-Mor Records, The Cactus Club, and the defunct Fasten fashion-collective boutique.
"I was way more interested with working with other people than just printing a board that said sky high on the bottom like most skate shops do," Polansky said. "I had that idea for years but it didn't make sense to do it at the old shop because what am I going to do, the Omega strip mall board series? No one out there would have cared and that's the difference."
Around the same time he set up a basketball hoop in the lot behind the shop where neighborhood kids would spend all day hanging out.
"People will say 'You really do a service' and other people joke that 'You should be charging daycare', but it's sort of a thing where I don't think I ever get tired of young people," said Polansky, "To be honest I think I get just as much enjoyment out of them. I am conscious of the fact that its good for them to have a place to stop in and say 'What's up'."
Polansky eventually moved the skate jams to the store, holding block parties where neighbors swing by to watch the skaters or eat a burger off the grill.
While the new off the beaten path location has at times been difficult for business, Polansky says he's enjoyed immersing himself in his Bay View neighborhood.
"It's been a struggle but its actually been really rewarding in terms of community and the people I have met and the things I have been able to do," Polansky said.
Polansky kept busy at the shop this summer with a series of downhill skateboard races, block parties, and collaborative projects with his girlfriend Faythe Levine, like a rotating mural project on the shop's storefront.
As chain skateboard shops and online catalogues put financial pressures on independent shops like his, Polansky said he hopes all his community building efforts will help keep the shop afloat and allow him to continue to try new things.
"We're just doing what we can to keep things moving and at the same time hopefully some of the stuff draws attention to the business, because the better this businesses does the more we are going to be able to help kids and have more stuff available to do," Polansky said.
Sky High is the best skate shop in wisconsin.
Speaking as a neighbor, and parent of one of the kids that Aaron has been so wonderful to, I couldn't agree more with everything that this article says about him. We would never dream of going anyplace else to purchase stuff for our son! It's great to have such a sense of community at Sky High! And not only at Sky High but also what he extends to the community! He makes Bay View a better place! Thanks Aaron
Aaron is awesome. He treats all the kids incredibly and really believes in the community and nieghborhood. I will always support Sky High. We need more people like Aaron in this world.
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