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Weldon Jones' Food Court Skatepark has Lifted Buffalo's Scene: 'It Feels Awesome ... It Just Makes Me Want to Do More'

(EDITOR’S NOTE — From skateboarding and the music scene in Buffalo to … Canadian geese? If there’s one thing that Food Court Skatepark owner Weldon Jones is, it’s passionate — not only for his business and the skate scene, but for the entire Buffalo community. 1120 Press sat down and spoke with Weldon about what it means to be a part of the scene, beyond the boards, scrapes and bruises. — Weldon Jones pictured in photos. Photos by Adrian Leuthauser/1120 Press.)

 

1120 PRESS: Are you nervous?

WELDON JONES: No, but you should take a picture of the geese that are outside in the back here.

1120: You know, I really think that they're part of the story.

WJ: Well, they, they come back every year.

1120: Do they? Just for you?

WJ: I like to think so. I'm gonna get some meal worms for them and feed them. I wanna befriend them.

1120: They're evil.

WJ: Canada geese are … But when's the last time you've hand fed them and earned their trust?

1120: Has anyone ever hand fed them and earned their trust? 

WJ: There you go.


1120:  On that note, let’s start at the beginning. We've known you since your Zumiez era. Prior to getting this going and moving, what have you taken from Zumiez and kind of done here? How did that set that foundation? 

 

WJ: So, through Zumiez, it really taught me the managerial skills that it takes to kind of run a business. Literally all of the business aspect of it was … just picked up and dropped here; how to manage the staff, how to keep inventory up, how to market things, how to display things, all of it. The corporate side of Zumiez.

 

1120: So while you were there, how long were you thinking about starting a park? Like, at one point in your career at Zumiez you were like, “shit, I need to do this instead.”?

 

WJ: Like, six years before I even started at Zumiez. That’s always been in the background of my mind. And it was just like trying to find spaces for it and realizing that retail — or just real estate in itself – is absolutely insane. So that dream kind of went on the back burner until I went to Zumiez and saw the mall and what the mall had to offer.

 

1120: Was the mall the main goal to kind of get here, especially with it now being kind of desolate?

 

WJ: I knew that really the mall wasn't truly going anywhere, and I knew it was an affordable spot and a great spot to kind of put up a project like this.

 

1120: Would you say it was almost like a waiting game, not for the mall to become desolate, but to become applicable?

 

WJ: Nope not at all. Because I was actually fighting with mall management for years and letting us have a spot.

 

1120: Even prior to everything being taken out?

 

WJ: Yeah, I mean, this was like a five-year plan. I think I even had a pseudo lease kind of drawn up before COVID hit. It was 2020 and then COVID hit, and the mall changed ownership. I had to start the whole process all over again. But, no, I knew that if it was gonna happen it would have to be here and only here.

 

1120: To step away a little bit from Food Court … you were just in Phoenix. What was that like? You said you went there to kind of learn and to gain more knowledge, to see how they did things. How does it compare to up here? You’re dealing with a state that is great all year round for skating. Outdoor parks are great out there, the place that you guys were at looked dope. You know we don't have that luxury here in Buffalo. What are you going to bring here (from Phoenix)?

 

WJ: There were people from Japan there; there are people from all over the world there. What I was going down there for was to basically learn how to host an international contest, to put on a high-caliber contest. That’s not just your local skate park. It’s not “come compete for some free skateboards with ten of your friends.” Like our first contest, we had people from all over the country and Canada come in. So it was a good taste of it. But I know that down in Phoenix, what Laura (Martin) does there (for Phoenix AM contest) she's the one who runs it and organized it for the last 25 years. They've got it dialed, so it was good notes for taking. 

 

1120: The layout of Food Court here: What made you decide on the construction of it all, the flow of it?

 

WJ: So we worked with Ramp Carnies. They’re a renowned skate park building crew. They build, ramps for The Berrics. They build all of Tony Hawks ramps. They built X Games courses and stuff like that. I mainly work with Brent, Brent Kronmuller, and we came out here in December before anything was even done. This was just a retail space. We spent eight hours just walking this area, imagining and laying debris down as to where the ramps would go so we can make sure everything was spaced out, right. Essentially, I wanted a park that was full of features that we don't have in Buffalo at all in the streets like handicap ramps, a lot of just attainable round rails. We don't have a lot of that in Buffalo, so I wanted to put stuff that we don't have.

 

1120: You're getting close to the one year. Congratulations on that, especially for the space. What was the first year like? What have you learned now that you're kind of getting to the one-year mark? What do you think you need to change, if anything at all, for the future here?

 

WJ: Um, well, this was always like, in the plan… The winter was chaos as like a Buffalo winter would be with just skating. So now that I know it's gonna get a little bit quieter, due to the nice weather, what we're gonna do is we're going to plan and do a little bit more of lessons, teaching and camps. What I noticed in Phoenix, where they're skating year round, and even in Toronto, they have an amazing culture of just like ‘groms’ – like little kids coming up. I noticed in this area, even when we posted the competition, the 15 and under contest … I think almost all the participants were from out of state. So we don't have a lot of kid skaters in Buffalo and I think it's just because we haven't had a culture where they could do it and stay dedicated to it, right? So it's all about growing the skate community, for the young-ins

 

1120: Let’s get into the skateboard culture in Buffalo. We’re a Rust Belt city. It’s

grim and dirt out there. Like you were saying, there's a lot that we're missing as far as, even street riding goes, that we don't get to have. We don't get the smooth, easy riding that say, California riders do. To be a skateboarder in Buffalo, how does that make us different from everyone else?

 

WJ: If you're in Buffalo and you stay in Buffalo and you don't go to like, San Francisco, you don't move away to go skate, that puts you at a severe disadvantage based on everyone else in the warm areas or other places of the country where they have skating year-round, quality parks, stuff like that. I mean, I've even noticed, just from this year, people that would have put down their board for the winter and done something else, or snowboarded, are able to come here. And the progression that's happened even just over the winter, for people not losing their tricks, and not losing what they have over the winter and actually building on it. So now spring hits, we're going out to other parks, we're going out to the streets now and stuff that we had no experience on, we’ve never seen before, we can look at the streets now and be like, “oh, that's just like the rail I was practicing on all winter. It's easy now."

 

1120: Do you think this has kind of built that culture up and built our community up for skateboarders?

 

WJ: Most definitely. (Food Court) is a spot where everyone comes to hang out, where everyone meets new people. I've met so many people I had no clue even existed, even in Buffalo. And it's definitely built our crew. We’re very close with Toronto now, for example. So a lot of the dudes who skate Toronto, we now wanna do teamed-up-trips. And it basically makes, ‘quote unquote’ Buffalo skate culture more like the Buffalo-Toronto-Metropolis-Tri-State-Area-skate culture. Which is awesome, because that's power in numbers.

 

1120: For you personally, it's obvious you have to be passionate about this in order to even want do it. How does that make you feel knowing that you're part of the community that has helped grow it? You gave people that facility. You go to bed at night, and you think about it: how does it make you feel?

 

WJ: It feels awesome just being able to really do something and try to connect more people to the thing that I've loved for so long. It just makes me want to do more. That’s why I went to Phoenix. That's why I reach out to people who have done this before and who know what they're doing and ask for help.

 

1120: As you make more connections, you get to meet other DIY scenes and get more into the music side of it; skateboarding and music goes hand-in-hand. What do you think that relationship is like? Especially for Buffalo?

 

WJ: I would love to do more stuff that incorporate skateboarding with music. And it’s kind of sad because I mean, we had X Wheels, and people are always like, “oh, why don't you do, like, concerts here?” X Wheels was able to do concerts because they A: Had the space and B: weren’t dedicated to being a skate park. They had mixed stuff. It’s super cool what they did but that isn’t it for us.

 

1120: You don't wanna mimic something that already was.

 

WJ: Right, so I decided to go all in on making it an awesome skate park and then, in the future, hopefully come up with something that we can do in the warmer months or come up with something that we can do to tie music and do it right.

 

1120: In the music scene, who would you say are some of your bands that you like that are local? We mentioned last time, Monomaniac. They’re just ripping it…

 

WJ: Yeah and they’re super rad. And it’s something that bums me out too, because I’ve always wanted to do an event and have them showcase. Any of the people that skate here, there’s so many people that are in the music side of things. It's something that I look forward to try to get something together where we can get that side of the culture and grow that as well. I’m all about doing great community events. That’s all what I've ever wanted to do.

 

1120: Building up the skate scene, do you think that can eventually lead to building the music scene up too?

 

WJ: Oh, 100 percent. I just gotta finish recovering from the initial of this (Food Court). But I'm always looking to come up with something to do with music and art. I mean, I used to DJ. I don't anymore because I'm here seven days a week. But I used to DJ every weekend like multiple days a week for years, and when we have our special events here, we have a DJs set up in the booth. The upper level is wired to the sound system and stuff like that. We get DJ Heat up here, and DJ DVS for our grand opening and things like that. I want to do more music stuff, definitely.

 

1120: Speaking of events, you had the Winter Cook Off. It looked so rad just by the photos alone. You mentioned that you were looking to do something again for the summer, something small?

 

WJ: Yeah, so we’re shooting for  Summer Cook Off near the end of July-ish. I've been trying to put together just lots of different walks of the culture, from like art to music to food. I want to bake all that together and make it sort of a festival.

 

1120: So like your own Warped Tour?

 

WJ: Oh my God, I forgot about that, yes, like that.

 

1120: The Vans Warped Tour and founder Kevin Lyman wanted to have that symbiotic relationship with skateboarding. In a way, that could be done here. Would that be kind of the end goal?

 

WJ: Not quite but I kind of want to compare it to Jackalope Festival. There’s a legitimate contest, not just a demo. This, I want people to be in the show right? Come compete and when you're done, go participate in some sort of activities that we have out there and go see your favorite band or something — just something like that, where it's a nice community building thing, and it's also something where… you might not care about skateboarding at all, but you can come to this event and be like, “Oh, cool, there's awesome food here, there's music here, something for the entire community to kind of sample what skateboarding is.’ And then maybe you still hate skateboarding when you're done with it. Or maybe you're like, ‘Wow, this is kind of interesting.’

 

1120: We talked about building the community, bringing up the young-ins to skateboarding in Buffalo, and giving people more spaces during the winter. So when we have the warmer months, they’re able to be out there and not lose their skills. But for you, what would you say is your ultimate goal for Food Court?

 

WJ: My ultimate goal is always to make this like the Skate Park of Tampa, of the Northeast. It's awesome growing the culture here, and that's definitely what I want. But I also want the whole Northeast to kind of have representation through this park, because you don't really have many events in the Northeast. All the demos, everything like that, is in New York City. There’s always something in New York City, always… So having a larger event here is like being able to reach NYC. I've always just wanted us to be the Northeast Skate Park of Tampa.

 

1120: The wild part, too, is we're not, like you said, far from Toronto. Realistically, we're not far from Pittsburgh, or Cleveland.

 

WJ: Yeah and Pittsburgh and Cleveland have amazing scenes. I mean Pittsburgh has Switch and Signal Skate Park, which is an awesome skate park. Cleveland has Tri-Star Skate Park which is a world renown park and shop. Those scenes are huge, and those dudes come here a lot. If you look at the lockers, you'll see Tri-Star stickers here, like the crews come here. And it's not that bad of a drive for skateboarding. I mean, we drive to Michigan for a skate trip. It's nothing; it’s a nothing drive.

 

1120: You've kind of established yourself, and now you're getting this recognition, finally being able to be recognized for this. Where does that put you at mentally? At ease?

 

WJ: It does. It means that there's less struggling to get bigger brands to notice us. This whole entire game is just being recognized. If brands recognize you and if you have a quality product, I mean, there's a lot of people with quality products, but they're just so quiet in the world that no one notices, and they're like, “Whoa, hidden gem.” But it requires less of me reaching out. And when I do reach out to people, it's not a straight up cold call. It’s more like, “Oh, I've heard of you. The park looks sick. Well, what's up?” And That's cool.

 

1120: As a business, outside of skateboarding, how do you feel about being a part of the community?

 

WJ: I would love to do more, like non-skateboard collabs with a lot of the people in this area. But right now, I've been pseudo, selfishly just focusing on getting the park up and running. But I would love to do sponsor events or have events here, or just in general, do weird collars with other smaller companies and brands and businesses in this area, in the Buffalo area. A lot of our interests in our customers overlap, because skateboarding is everyone and everything… we have kids that come here, we have lawyers, we got all walks of life.

 

1120: And that's the thing with skateboarding, it's always been sort of that way. Anybody can get on skateboard.

 

WJ: It doesn't matter who you are but if you're out there, and it shows that you're trying, people will respect you a little bit more for that.

 

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