Sunday, December 29, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — About eight years ago when Jason Graves got laid off from his restaurant job, he had a conversation with his wife in which he told her he wanted to open a BMX bicycle shop.
Her response was immediate. “I’ve been waiting for you to say that,” she told him.
From that conversation came Full Circle Bike Shop, which opened in its new location at 141 North Main St. in Florence in November after about seven years in quarters on North Maple Street.
Graves said he runs the store on his own “about 99 percent” of the time, but has part-time on-call help available during the summer and when things get busy.
Graves, 41, who lives in Worthington, said the impetus to open the bike shop came in part due to what he felt was a lack of BMX-centered bike shops in the area.
BMX (short for bicycle motocross) riding is what got Graves into cycling in the first place and uses bikes designed to handle jumps and perform tricks, he said.
The new location, Graves said, gives his shop room for more inventory and will allow the store to carry an expanded inventory that includes commuter and mountain bikes and scooters, and “fat” bikes designed to handle snow.
Being on North Main Street also gives the shop better access to the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which runs behind the shop, and the larger location allows Graves to keep rental bikes in inventory to allow people without bikes to still take advantage of the trail.
Graves said he’s gone so far as to construct dirt jumps behind his home in Worthington where he and his wife, Lynne and his two sons, Jonah, 7 and Forest, 13 live, to allow people to try out their BMX skills and organizes trips to skate parks throughout New England for up to 60 cyclists at a time to spend a day riding and tricking.
For many of his customers, Graves said, a bike is a low-cost, fuel-less alternative to automobiles or public transportation.
For kids, though, a bike typically means one thing, he said: freedom.
“That’s what it was to me,” Graves said. “All of a sudden you can explore miles away from home.”
Getting access to that freedom can be difficult for some families, Graves said, but some anonymous donors have made it easier on occasion.
About four times over the years, benefactors who choose to remain anonymous have fronted the cost of a bike to be given to a customer.
The most recent recipient was a 13-year-old Southampton boy who came into the shop looking for some parts for an older bike he had.
Graves said the shop had started a letter-writing campaign in which people could nominate someone they thought should receive the gift of a new bike.
Graves said the store had received many good suggestions, but he felt the boy and his family would be good candidates.
He contacted the boy’s mother and asked if it would be OK to select her son as the recipient, and she agreed.
Graves said the boy was in shock when presented with the new bike and was told he spent part of his trip home in the car literally pinching himself to make sure he hadn’t dreamed the whole thing.
“He didn’t know what to say,” Graves said. “He didn’t think it was true.”
“Those are really great moments when you can do it,” Graves said. “It’s fun when any kid gets their first bike.”
As much as he would love to be able to give away more bikes, Graves said he managed to do so mainly through the generosity of outside donations.
Graves said in a digital era where almost anything that can be thought of can be purchased without ever stepping foot into a brick-and-mortar store, he hopes that attentive customer service will keep people coming back.
“It’s definitely more than a bike shop to me,” Graves said. “I think it is to a lot of people.”
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.