Wheels are in motion
Effort underway to keep Wooden Wheels’ mission going after sudden closure
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.