I went to a retirement party for my friend John yesterday. He owned the bike shop. While he owned it, many, many people referred to it as “my bike shop”. Finding the bike shop that fits is like finding your barber shop. It’s a personal thing. Both my barber shop and my now former bike shop are homegrown reflections of their owners. There is nothing corporate or flashy about them. You know people there. A visit is social at least as much as business. We each know where the other lives. Our numbers are in each other’s phones. We’ve broken bread, or at least uncapped bottles, together.
I suppose that describes businesses for much of human existence. It’s only recently that most people didn’t remain in the community of their birth. Two generations ago, we knew our neighbors, knew our towns, enjoyed their institutions. That’s changed at a Koyaanisqatsi pace, one that I haven’t even tried to keep up with, this blog notwithstanding.
At the party were friends of the shop, only about a third of whom I knew. That alone spoke to John’s influence given the number of times I had stopped by in the past decade. There were photos from when John and his brother first opened the shop 40 years ago; photos that could have been stills from Breaking Away. Blonde hair had become gray hair and the bikes had changed radically, but the smiles were the same.
I described the shop and the upcoming party to my friend Mark, who lives in what sounds like a suburban dead zone outside of Philly. Mark responded by saying, “The fabric of your community has actual fabric.”
It does. And although the cycling community remains, there’s a big hole where the center once was.