27 September 2010

The Bike Shop Moves Away From Memory

The other day, I stopped in a bike shop I used to visit, and buy from, quite frequently.  That was when I was the "before" photo, and I was riding off-road with a few other guys.   The shop was the nearest one to Forest Park, which is to Queens what Central Park is to Manhattan and Prospect to Brooklyn.  The difference is that there's more wooded area that is, if not virgin or wild, at least less sculpted.  And more remote.  What that meant was that, as often as not, we'd encounter spots that looked as if a Santeria ritual held been conducted--or that a baby had been conceived--on it.

But I digress.  We often stopped at the shop in question because, as often or not, one of us needed an inner tube or chain, or even a pedal or derailleur.  And I would sometimes go there when I was riding solo, particularly if I was riding to or from Rockaway Beach.  They had a good selection of components, and the proprietor, now retired, was a Frenchman.  That gave me the opportunity to talk about my experiences in his home country as I practiced his native language.

But I wondered how long the place would endure.  Of course, I was thinking of how long the shop as I knew it would last.  I guess I feel about bike shops the way I feel about favorite cafes or bookstores:  I don't want them to change, but I know that they must.

And so it is with the bike shop in question.  The former proprietor's son, who was in junior high school the first time I visited that shop, has taken over.  He is married and has a kid.  One of his riding buddies has become a business partner as well as a husband and father.  And a couple of young men who weren't yet born the first time I went to the shop are working there now.

So far, that sounds like normal progress.  But other changes may be more ominous, at least to me.   There are no road bikes, and only a few mountain or comfort bikes.  Those bikes are at least a couple of years old.  And much of the cycling equipment is even older.  In a way, I don't mind, for I've often been able to find a discontinued or "obsolete" part there.  And I still get good deals on them.  

The few new bikes are those small-wheeled wonders meant for BMX.  So are the new components and accessories.  Again, that may just be a consequence of time marching on.  The same may be said for the new clientèle, all of whom seem to be kids in their early teens.  Again, that may just be progress, in the literal sense of the word.

I have to admit to some amusement I got from the kids.  They peppered their speech with profanity, as boys that age are wont to do when they're amongst themselves.  (That hasn't changed,  believe me!)  What I found ironic was that the riding buddy-turned-business-partner admonished the kids, "Watch your language!" and glanced in my direction.  One of the kids turned toward me sheepishly and whispered, "Sorry, lady!"

Their banter continued, and the profanity returned.  I intoned, "Could you please clean up your language."  They apologized in unison.  And, a couple of minutes later, one of them yelled, "Shut the..." before glancing in my direction.

As I said, they are not such unusual pubescent boys.  But, as I am growing old and conservative (!), I couldn't help but to wonder where their parents were.  All along the street where the shop is located, and the streets of that neighborhood, no-one who looked the right age to be their parents was to be found.  There were only other kids like them, who seemed to have even less structure in their lives than those kids had, and older people, who were living those kids' futures.

It occurred to me then that it was a wonder the shop has survived as long as it has.  The neighborhood around it has been a blue-collar enclave for the better part of a century; relatives of mine grew up and raised their kids there.  So it never has been a neighborhood with high incomes or people who rode bicycles after they started to work.  It's always been a place where the men take the train that rumbles overhead to their jobs until they can afford a car, and the women stayed home to raise their kids and cook for large gatherings that included other people's kids.  They rarely, if ever, emerge from the shadow of that train, and the neighborhood grows dirtier and sadder.  

And now "nobody has any money; everybody's out of work," according to the now-proprietor.  He is happy to be "making it," although, he confided to me, he never could provide his kid the standard of living his father provided for him if his wife didn't have her job.  He also intimated that he hardly rides anymore and that he spends more of what free time he has on his skateboard.

As the shop is along a couple of routes I ride, and requires only a slight detour when I ride to or from work, I am sure I will stop there again.  I just wonder what will be there.


  1. The bike shop where I had my first new bike built was a corner shop and the stock had to be removed and parked outside before Jack could get inside with enough room for a few customers. He is long dead now and his daughter and husband who took over and helped move to larger premises have just retired and handed management over to the long term mechanics, Sadly it is now a boutique shop with plastic framed racers with new car prices on their sale labels!

  2. Coline--I must admit that seeing bike shops become bike boutiques or other establishments that don't serve people who want practical, affordable equipment is even sadder, to me, than seeing shops close.