DC Rollergirls teammates Helena Handbag and Velocityraptor had been talking about starting a roller derby skate shop for years and finally said, “What are we waiting for?” In February of this year, the women opened Department of Skate in DC, happily serving derby dames in the city and its surrounding areas.
Chief Gladiator: Hellie, where in the city is your shop?
Hellie Handbag: It’s in Chinatown, so it’s centrally located and derby players from Virginia and Maryland can easily get here, too.
CG: What made you and Raptor want to open a derby skate shop?
HH: The two of us are total skate nerds and we love derby equipment. We love all the gear—the plates, the wheels, and putting everything together. We also love introducing people to derby. We get people coming in off the street asking, “What’s roller derby?”
CG: Do either of you have retail experience or have either of you started a business before?
HH: No to both! We just always thought it would be a lot of fun and we knew there was a definite need for a skate shop (the closest full-service derby shop is located in Brooklyn, NY.) It’s definitely a big time commitment, especially because we both have full-time jobs. Sometimes we still can’t believe we did it. Not having experience was actually somewhat advantageous because we were really open-minded and willing to try almost anything without hesitation.
Also, we’ve found that owners of skate shops across the country (technically our competitors) have been unbelievably helpful throughout this process. Normally, you’d think that your competitors wouldn’t want to help you or reveal any of their secrets, but the friendliness of derby transcends into business. We can call and ask other derby skate shop owners questions anytime, and they are more than willing to help us.
CG: What is the most challenging aspect of owning and running the business thus far?
HH: I’d say just finding the time to get everything done. I work full-time and play for the DC Rollergirls, so it’s difficult to squeeze everything in. Also, knowing how much merchandise to order is tricky. When we don’t have what the customer is looking for in stock, I feel like such a failure! It’s hard to keep everything in stock all the time. Raptor and I work it out time-wise and we are SO lucky to have Rebel Yael to staff the shop during the day.
CG: On the upside, what has been the most fun part of owning the shop?
HH: One of the most awesome things, which I hadn’t even anticipated, is helping the new derby girls prepare for boot camp. They come in to get their gear for the first time and helping them choose everything and fit them is SO much fun. We have a skate maintenance class for beginners, too, which is always a great time.
CG: Have you had to advertise a lot? How have people learned about the shop?
HH: Luckily, word of mouth in the derby community travels fast. We do use social media, but for the most part, word of mouth is working really well because derby women talk to each other a lot. Also, there are no full-service derby shops close by, so we don’t really have competition in the area. It’s much more of a hassle to order skates online because you can’t try them on, so derby women are fortunately so happy to have us—it’s nice to be appreciated.
CG: Speaking of ordering online, do you plan have an online store?
HH: Our website is still in the works, but we do plan to have an online store and ship nationwide.
CG: What made you fall in love with derby so much that you even got the point of loving the equipment?
HH: The cool thing about derby is whether you’re tall, short, tiny or big, there’s a place for you and there’s something within the sport that you’ll excel at. It’s like the anti-sport or something because really anyone can practice and be good at it.
CG: Tell our readers exactly where they can find you so that they can pay you a visit if they’re in town.
HH: We are at the corner of 6th and H Streets, NW a block from the Chinatown-Gallery Place metro.