In late 2003, Vans announced plans to close all but one of its 12 skateparks nationwide. The board-sports shoe and apparel manufacturer had opened the parks during skateboarding's boom years in the late 1990s, and numerous imitators copied its model. The Vans parks, which were typically built onto malls, represented skateboarding's future. But like a lot of things in the late '90s, the boom didn't last.
It wasn't as simple as following the ol' Field of Dreams slogan "If you build it, they will come." Vans had one of the most recognizable names in the sport, with plenty of marketing muscle. Faced with competition from free municipal parks (skaters paid $7 per two-hour session at Vans parks), rough economic times and a perceived decline in skateboarding participation, the Vans model proved unsustainable.
Don't eulogize the skatepark just yet, though. Although the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association found that skateboarding participation dropped by more than 2 million from 2002 to 2003, the National Sports Goods Association found that skateboarding participation rose from 5.8 million in 1998 to 9 million in 2003, an increase of more than 55 percent.
Plenty of skateparks are flourishing. If anything, the Vans parks proved it takes more than money to make a skatepark successful.