Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Another Bike Shop Memory

There are some old bike shops that really live on in my memories, long after they've closed up. Shops that could trace their way back to the classic era, when the best frames were steel and lugged. Shops where the old stuff never really disappeared, it just got buried and maybe forgotten -- like treasure just waiting to be re-discovered like some relics in an archaeological dig site.

Not actually Marvin's shop -- but there is a resemblance.
Marvin's shop was like that. The shop wasn't called "Marvin's" but that's how I always knew it. He actually ran a couple different shops in different locations and with different names over the years (although they were all roughly within walking distance of Marvin's home), but they were essentially all the same little shop. It just moved around and changed names a few times, that's all. It was once called "PeeWee's Bikes" and it was once known (almost ironically) as "Hi-Tech Bikes," and there was another name in-between those two that I simply can't remember, but it was easier to just call it "Marvin's shop." He was the one constant -- albeit a quirky, eccentric constant.

At Marvin's, the term "Business Hours" didn't mean much.
One thing I remember about Marvin's shop was that it was hard to find it open. Marvin kept odd hours. He had regular "business hours" posted on the door -- on one of those little signs with a clock face on it -- but the little sign didn't actually mean anything. The posted hours weren't even "approximations." He'd go into the shop for a couple of hours. Putter around a bit with some old bikes. Walk home and have lunch. Maybe a few hours later he'd go back in and open up for another hour or two. Maybe not. Finding the shop open was definitely a hit-or-miss proposition.

If you were lucky enough to find Marvin's shop open, you really did feel like you were on an archaeological expedition. Almost everything in the shop was from an earlier time -- left-over, old stock -- mostly from the 70s and the bike-boom. Even though a lot of stuff was actually new, it was often shopworn; original packaging lost; tossed into boxes without much organization. New parts and used ones were sometimes jumbled together in the same old cardboard boxes. Bikes and boxes of parts were everywhere. You really had to dig to find things. Bikes were sometimes so closely entwined that it was hard to extricate one from another. Needless to say, things in Marvin's shop were rarely pristine, but many of them were treasures nonetheless.

There were a lot of classic old bikes in Marvin's shop. Lots of them with Reynolds tubing, or sometimes Columbus. Some with Campagnolo parts, others with cool old French bits. I remember a gorgeous early-80s Colnago hanging from the ceiling. It had been built with Campagnolo's 50th anniversary group. There were some cool old French bikes, some Italian, some small-shop British frames, too. In the boxes of parts, you could find some pretty nice old things -- if you didn't mind digging. But that was part of the appeal; the sense that maybe you could unearth something really rare and beautiful.

Another thing I remember about the shop was that it was very hard to actually buy anything. Nothing had a price. If Marvin had a price in mind, he wouldn't simply tell you. I don't know if he just hated to part with anything, or if he was concerned that some of the stuff had somehow increased so much in value (despite the shopworn condition) that he didn't wan't to let it go too cheaply. I'm inclined to think it was the former. He'd grown too attached to things and couldn't let them go -- probably not a good habit if you're supposedly making a living in sales. But if you wanted something, you'd ask Marvin, "How much for . . ." and the response would be, "Hmm, ahh, how much do you think it's worth?" It could get maddening.

You could tell the guy really knew his stuff, though, and he really loved bikes and components. Often when I was there in the shop, Marvin would quiz me -- test me on one thing or another, as if trying to figure out if I would provide his cherished items with a properly good home. I remember once I was looking for an old 2-bolt Campagnolo seat post for a '71 Raleigh International -- either Nuovo Record or Gran Sport (I didn't care which -- they were pretty hard to tell apart). Marvin questioned me about who built the frame and where it was built. I answered that the International was not actually built by Raleigh, but by Carlton (which had been purchased by Raleigh around 1960) in Worksop, England. Correct answer -- I had "passed" the test. Marvin sold me a seatpost.

It must have been about 10 years ago, at least, Marvin's health was not too good, and at one point I had heard that both he and his wife were battling illnesses. The little shop was open less and less often. Eventually he sold the shop to someone else who changed the name and completely re-did the place like new inside. I don't think Marvin sold them the old stock of bikes and parts, though -- at least not much of it. I'm not sure what happened to the contents of the place. For as much as I had seen in the shop, I've heard that the basement was overwhelming and intimidating, even for the most hardy explorers. Still, I wish I could have gotten down there to see it. Somebody must have gotten the old stuff, though, as I've occasionally seen bikes come up for sale on eBay that I'm almost certain must have come from Marvin's. Makes me wonder.

I really miss old shops like Marvin's. I don't know if shops like that have a place in today's carbon-fiber-electronic-shifting-hydraulic-disk-brake world, but they'll always be a place for Retrogrouches like me.

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