The Iceman Speaketh

Don Baldwin, manager of the Lloyd Center Ice Rink, on artificial snow, Tonya Harding, and how smaller ice can be twice as nice

By Marty Patail September 30, 2021 Published in the Summer 2021 issue of Portland Monthly

Don Baldwin

Image: NashCO Photo

Don Baldwin has been the general manager of Lloyd Center’s ice rink since 1998—long before the snazzy 2016 remodel that shrunk the size of the ice. We asked what keeps him gliding.

What has kept you here for 23 years?
The people. We have really nice people here. We’ve set up kind of a community. I tell people, ‘We’re inside a big pink bubble here.’ Because it’s all about the skaters, it’s all about skating. Everybody comes here and they leave their everyday responsibilities behind.

Who’s the typical Lloyd Center skater?
Wow. Um. Everybody’s the typical Lloyd Center skater. I know that sounds facile, and I don’t mean it to. But honestly, it’s very typical for us to have a whole family come. Sometimes an extended family with grandparents. And they tend to come on the weekend days. And the weekend nights, we get the young adults. Some come all the time, some come sporadically. And we also have the after-school kids.

The rink has been here since the mall opened in 1960. What do you think keeps people coming back?
We’ve positioned ourselves as the friendliest rink, and because of that we get a lot of people coming in to learn how to skate. It was a rational decision on my part. Because even with the old rink—which was bigger than this one—we didn’t have a full-size rink. And other places did. So the question was, how are we going to differentiate ourselves? I just decided we’d be the soft, inviting, the welcoming rink. I got the right staff in. We do a learn-to-skate school. I put the same person at the front all the time. I got the staff to learn people’s names. When you learn people’s names it’s a key, you know? They come back more and more.

Have you had any superstars learn to skate here?
Tonya Harding worked for me as a coach from 2000 to 2002, roughly. She really knew a lot to pass on to the kids. We try to be a feeder rink—and by that I mean, we take kids who have never set foot on ice, and then once they get to a certain point they are better off going somewhere else. And we smile and wave goodbye to them and tell them to come back and visit and tell us how things went, you know?

What’s been the busiest you’ve seen the rink?
When we put the Christmas tree in [in 2016]. I was quite stunned when we got the new rink because the business was actually doing better. I’m like, “This is not what I expected to see. You don’t have quite as much surface area.”

But I discovered what it was. When small children came here when we had the bigger rink, they would get intimidated by the size of the ice. They just couldn’t get their head around it. And so when they’re here now they look at it and say, “Oh that’s ice.” It fits inside their minds, and they don’t feel intimidated by it.

What’s your favorite memory here?
The first time we turned on the artificial snow at Christmas [in 2016]. I started taking a look around the social media and realized that the snow falling at here put so much magic in people’s lives that even people who didn’t skate were posting selfies of themselves with the backdrop of the snow and the holiday tree. You just see the magic lighting up in their faces, and I like to bring the holiday magic to people. That is something important to me.