Wheels are in mo­tion

Ef­fort un­der­way to keep Wooden Wheels’ mis­sion go­ing af­ter sud­den clo­sure

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

For Chris Den­ney, Rob­bie Down­ward and David Fer­gu­son, Wooden Wheels was more than just a place of em­ploy­ment – it was their club­house of sorts, a place to hang out and share their pas­sion for cy­cling with oth­ers.

“It was my dream get­ting a job there,” Fer­gu­son said Sun­day. “This is a job where we al­ways took pas­sion over pay.”

That’s why the bike shop’s sud­den clo­sure last week left the for­mer em­ploy­ees reel­ing. Af­ter re­cov­er­ing from the shock, they quickly united to find a way to es­tab­lish a new shop that would carry on the spirit of Wooden Wheels.

They be­gan rais­ing money on­line and have al­ready raised more than half of the $20,000 they es­ti­mate they need to find a new lo­ca­tion, get a busi­ness li­cense and cover other startup costs.

“The com­mu­nity sup­port has been amaz­ing,” Fer­gu­son said. “The fact so many peo­ple care says a lot for what Wooden Wheels meant.”

Wooden Wheels opened in 1976 at the cor­ner of Main

Street and Tyre Av­enue. It later spent 25 years in Ne­wark Shop­ping Cen­ter be­fore mov­ing to its cur­rent lo­ca­tion – 141 E. Main St., be­hind Star­bucks – in 2011.

The store’s Con­cord Pike lo­ca­tion closed in Au­gust, but there were no in­di­ca­tions that the Ne­wark lo­ca­tion would fol­low suit un­til em­ploy­ees ar­rived for work Jan. 22. Tom Har­vey, whose fam­ily has owned the shop since the early 1980s, told them the busi­ness was closed.

“We had the rug pulled out from un­der us,” Fer­gu­son said.

Har­vey said Tues­day that his de­ci­sion to close is “pretty com­pli­cated” but added that one of the fac­tors was in­creased com­pe­ti­tion from on­line re­tail­ers. He said Den­ney, Down­ward and Fer­gu­son have his bless­ing to open a new shop and can use the name Wooden Wheels if they choose, though he noted any new ven­ture would not be of­fi­cially con­nected to the old shop.

“They’re awe­some,” he said. “We were like a fam­ily. I miss them al­ready.”

The em­ploy­ees’ goal is to find a new lo­ca­tion some­where in Ne­wark to open a new, scaled-back bike shop that fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on ser­vice and re­pairs. Down­ward and Den­ney were the ser­vice man­agers at Wooden Wheels and said that dur­ing busy pe­ri­ods, the shop re­paired up to 15 bikes per day.

They want to con­tinue to pro­vide that ser­vice to the lo­cal bike com­mu­nity. To keep over­head low, they don’t plan to sell bikes like Wooden Wheels did, but they may stock cer­tain ac­ces­sories.

“The bike busi­ness is chang­ing,” Har­vey said. “What these guys are do­ing is the fu­ture of a bike shop that can co­ex­ist with the in­ter­net.”

The idea is to pro­vide a place where the cy­cling com­mu­nity can gather, learn from pro­fes­sion­als and get per­son­al­ized ser­vice.

“We can’t imag­ine a Ne­wark with­out some­thing like that,” Fer­gu­son said. Den­ney con­curred. “To have a friendly shop where you can come have a cup of cof­fee or a beer af­ter your ride is awe­some,” he said.

On­line re­tail­ers have hurt sales of bike ac­ces­sories, but there’s no way for web­sites to repli­cate a re­pair ser­vice like Wooden Wheels of­fered, he said.

Main Street’s other bike shop, Bike Line, was re­cently pur­chased by a Wis­con­sin-based bi­cy­cle maker and re­branded as Trek Bi­cy­cle. Mean­while, the Ne­wark Bike Project on South Main Street op­er­ates as a non­profit com­mu­nity shop where peo­ple can learn to work on their own bikes.

In a state­ment posted on­line, Ne­wark Bike Project co-founder Jamie Magee said Wooden Wheels had a pro­found im­pact on the Ne­wark cy­cling scene.

“Gra­cious owner Tom Har­vey not only al­ready knew the im­por­tance of a com­mu­nity bike shop, but dur­ing our first few years they pro­ceeded to do­nate dozens of bikes, give us dis­counts on any­thing we needed, re­fer bud­get minded cus­tomers to us, and even taught us new skills,” Magee said. “Just as Tom had told us that first day, Wooden Wheels showed that lo­cal bike shops are not in busi­ness for the money. They are in busi­ness to serve the cy­cling com­mu­nity, just in a dif­fer­ent way than a non­profit com­mu­nity shop such as NBP.”

While they work on es­tab­lish­ing a new shop, the for­mer em­ploy­ees plan to con­tinue re­pair­ing bikes through a pickup and dropoff ser­vice. How­ever, their ul­ti­mate goal is to have a brick-and-mor­tar lo­ca­tion by the spring, tra­di­tion­ally a busy time for bike re­pairs.

“We have to keep the ball rolling,” Down­ward said.

For more in­for­ma­tion about their ef­forts, visit www.go­fundme.com/keep­wooden-wheels-rolling.


(From left) Rob­bie Down­ward, David Fer­gu­son and Chris Den­ney, for­mer em­ploy­ees of the re­cently shut­tered Wooden Wheels, are try­ing to start a new bike shop.


Wooden Wheels on Main Street closed sud­denly last week.


(From left) David Fer­gu­son, Chris Den­ney and Rob­bie Down­ward, for­mer em­ploy­ees of the re­cently shut­tered Wooden Wheels, are try­ing to start a new bike shop.

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