Bay Area Skating Community Rallies to Save Hayward Skate Maker

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For more than 25 years, Will Murillo has painstakingly crafted ice skating boots worn by everyone from Olympians to amateurs -- all with an eye toward old-world craftsmanship. But 2020, nearly marked the Hayward craftsman's last year in business.

"All of a sudden Covid happened," Murillo said, "and production stopped, completely."

With Olympic games, ice shows and skating rinks shut down because of the pandemic, the orders for Murillo's handmade skates all but dried up. His savings account dwindled to almost nothing, and he eyed a nearly impossible future.

"We were extremely close to close our doors," Murillo said, who runs his company Avanta Boot Lab in Hayward.

But after word of his struggle got out to the skating community, a sort-of skating cavalry rode to his rescue. Dozens of skaters began ordering his skates, which run more than a thousand dollars a pair, some even purchasing them even though they didn't need new skates.

Rennain Garnes, a beginning skater from Oakland launched a GoFundMe to support the company, then paid for a pair of skates he planned to pick up -- well-- someday.

A row of newly-made skates wait for their owners in Avanta Boot Labs in Hayward.

"I’m doing ok," Garnes said, "but knowing that these guys will be a struggling, I thought 'well I can help them out."

Murillo said the outpouring of orders from the skating community kept him afloat through a difficult time. The last-minute business allowed him to keep several employees working.

"You can’t stop when you see the love you received from them," Murillo said surrounded by tools and unfinished skates. "It’s because of them that we’re still here."

Murillo started out his career as teen -- he discovered an ice skate building operation in the Bronx, New York and pestered the owner until he gave him a job sweeping floors. Murillo worked his way up to making skate boots, learning the skills of the trade. When the business eventually closed years later, Murillo bought all the company's manufacturing machines, hired some of his former co-workers and opened up a business in Hayward. His staff currently includes two men in their seventies who worked alongside the younger Murillo in New York.

"We always been dedicated and passionate about what we do," Murillo said.

Murillo pointed out several clocks in the building stopped at different times because they aren't running, emphasizing that ice skate making isn't a craft you can rush.

"You can’t have the mentality of I need to make X amount of skates a week," he said.

But the sudden impact of the pandemic sent a chill through Murillo, thinking he'd be unable to pursue a craft he grew-up on. His wife Allison, a skating coach who also hasn't been able to work, praised the local skating community for its loyalty.

"So those skates they bought, it wasn’t just a one-time purchase," Allison said, "it was 'thank you for letting us hold on more and more years to come."

Murillo is considered one of the last skate boot makers in the world, crafting each boot from an impression taken from each customer's feet. Inside the warehouse, hundreds of feet impressions hung from the ceilings and racks, a testament to his fan base. It's a world Murillo wasn't ready to leave behind, and now, won't have to.

"When you see that, how can I say I’m going to stop," he said. "That encourages you to keep on going."

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