October is certainly a month in which many people are thinking pink in light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
But one South Windsor woman who is battling breast cancer is seeing red after a Vernon roller skating rink - citing a longstanding business policy - ordered her to remove her hat to enter the premises on Monday afternoon.
Employees of Ron-A-Roll in Vernon said that South Windsor’s Janna Lombardo, who has been battling breast cancer since 2006, could not wear her hat into the premises despite her desire to only sit in the establishment’s snack bar.
“I have no hair and I’m on chemotherapy,” Lombardo said in a telephone interview. “They said they would supply me with a helmet, even though I told them I was not going on the rink. They still wouldn’t let me in, telling me I could have worn a helmet. …
“I even took a piece of hair out to show them that I was undergoing chemo.”
Lombardo said she only wanted to watch her two children (ages 9 and 7) skate, and that being denied access based on her headwear was particularly difficult because she has so few days in which both her kids have the day off and when she has the energy to do things with them.
“I stormed out of there went to my car and cried,” said Lombardo, adding that she was not particularly pleasant to the rink employees. “I was so upset. My kids wanted to go skating. … I only get so many days a week when I feel good, and this happened to be one of the days [my kids] had off. [Ron-A-Roll employees] were unbending. ...
“I have never had anyone treat me like this before.”
Ron-A-Roll, for its part, has a sign that is in plain view inside the foyer of the establishment that states, in relevant part, “No Hats! No Headwear! No exceptions!”
What’s more, the establishment’s website sets forth a dress code that prohibits “hats or headwear of any kind including sunglasses, combs worn in the hair, handkerchiefs, head wraps, sweat bands, Do-rags, wave caps, scarves, bandanas, etc.”
The site invites people with questions about the dress code to contact Ron-A-Roll at a phone number listed.
Representatives from Ron-A-Roll’s management politely declined to be interviewed for this story, but the business released a statement citing safety concerns - hats and bandannas can fall on the ground - as the reason behind the strict dress code enforcement.
"Our rules, which we firmly stand behind, are in place in an effort to prevent potential risk of injury to patrons of our facility. Roller skating is a strenuous and fast-moving sport, like in any other sport if the rules are not enforced people get hurt. Our policies are posted on our website, in our lobby, announced over the PA system and on most of our fliers in the hope that incidents like this can be avoided. The only headwear we allow are helmets because they are secured with a chin strap and designed for safety. We do not allow headwear because if it fell off it would be a tripping hazard. Safety is our first priority and therefore, our rules cannot be bent, nor exceptions be made. Helmets are offered to customers so that this safety requirement is met. The roller skating industry is not the only type venue that has rules in place, many other amusement places and family entertainment centers have rules for the safety of their patrons."
A Ron-A-Roll employee who declined to be identified told Vernon Patch Local Editor Chris Dehnel that the policy has been in place and strictly and uniformly enforced for some time.
The business’ safety concerns, however, did not sit well with Lombardo, who said that she has seen popcorn and other items on the floor of the rink and snack bar.
“I’ve seen coats, shoes, pocketbooks and food on ground, but they’re worried that your hat might fall off?” said Lombardo, before drawing an analogy. “It’s discrimination. I can’t bring a dog into a restaurant, but a blind person can bring a service animal in. There are exceptions to everything.”
South Windsor resident Susan Morison, Lombardo's friend who was at the rink with her children during the incident, agrees.
"I work for a small business," Morison said. "The staff there makes exceptions all the time. ... It was flabbergasting that [Ron-A-Roll's] owner didn't make an exception here.
Morison said that Lombardo's appearance - balding from chemotherapy - rendered her in a less-than-dignified state.
"For someone who was going to just watch the skating, it was ridiculous for the owner not to budge," she said.
The claim that Ron-A-Roll discriminates against cancer patients may not sit well with its owners, however, as the rink has hosted several Relay for Life events in the past.
While rink representatives are insisting that the policy’s enforcement is about safety, it is not unusual for such businesses institute strict dress codes because of potential gang activity.
Lt. John Kelley of the Vernon Police Department said he remembers a period of about six years from the late 1990s into the early 2000s when there were numerous calls each weekend regarding problems at Ron-A-Roll. He said “young gang types” - particularly from Hartford and New Britain - were causing trouble.
"It used to be a problem. On a couple of occasions, there were near-riots," Kelley said.
Regardless, Lombardo said that there was one way for Ron-A-Roll to make amends.
“Make a donation to the American Cancer Society,” she said. “A large one.”