It used to be a small carpet store, and I remembered it having a certain mideast flavor. It sat at the corner of a neighborhood strip mall, well set back from a main road, behind the Wendy’s and the McDonalds, so much so that you could barely make out the names on the store fronts when you drove by on Darnestown Road. I remember having gone to the carpet store once to ask if they would like to put an advertisement in the program book for the annual show of the chorus. The proprietor said that he would look into it but he never got back to me. That was then.
But then we noticed that something had changed. It was when we were driving to the park for one our Sunday morning walks along the towpath. There was now a new sign over the storefront that simply said “Bike Shop”. A bike shop in our neighborhood was something new, and it was a surprising, if not puzzling, thing to me. This was a curiosity. Running a local bike store had to be a tough gig, especially when you were competing with big nationwide companies and their large and well stocked stores. Local bike stores have come and gone in other neighborhoods. Why had folks opened a small bike shop in this location? I resolved to pay these guys a visit some time.
The opportunity arose after my first training ride of the year last week. While I had been wanting to go the bike store for a while, it was only after that ride that I found the focus to remember in a timely manner my intent to visit the store. So I stopped by after the ride.
I stepped into a small space that was filled with used bikes of all kinds, for all ages, and for all the different kinds of biking experiences that were possible. There was also some other biking gear and equipment sitting around on stands and on shelves on the walls. The place had a crowded feel to it. Behind a counter was a young man working on a bike. Music was playing on a computer in the background.
I started the conversation by noting that I had stopped by because of curiosity, and asked the guy how long the shop had been open. “Ten months,” he said. He spoke with a very distinct but light accent. He seemed very friendly and open. I told him about the bike ride I had done last year. That seemed to break the ice. He turned down the music and started chatting. And gradually the story emerged.
The store was owned and operated by his father and him. Their primary business was not selling new equipment, but in taking care of and maintaining bicycles for people. He loved touring on his bicycle. He said he was the kind of person who would pack his bike with all the equipment that he would need for a ride, including what was needed for outdoor stays and cooking, and just go. He said that if I were interested in a bike, he could put one together from parts obtained from used bikes that he could get from his contacts, and that he could fit the bike with exactly the right kind of equipment I would need for the type of ride I was interested in doing. And he could do this for a reasonable price. He was very conversational, but I also noticed a certain ease and sense of confidence that he had with what he was doing.
I got the sense that he was enjoying being in business with his dad. He gave me a business card as I was preparing to leave. The card said “Andes Bike Shop”, and the name on the card was Oscar Ramirez. I asked him if that was his name, and he noted that both he and his dad had the same name. When I asked him why the name of the shop did not appear on the sign up front, he said that this was something his dad had decided. And even in that comment I could sense the connection he had with his dad. It was a connection of love and respect. There seemed to be a sense of togetherness and trust in their activity of running the store.
I was curious about the Ramirezes and the Andes Bike Shop, and about what it was that had brought them and their store to our little corner of Gaithersburg. I had asked the young Oscar where they resided, and he had mentioned that they lived nearby. I still wondered what triggered their decision to set up the store in its current location. I did manage to find this video about them.
This happens to be an immigrant story, and I find stories like this somewhat inspiring. I will perhaps go out of my way to give them some business even if there are other less expensive options. We need more of these kinds of small family businesses to survive and thrive. You have to believe that it is not always about the money.