New bicycle shop up and rollingPatrons of the pub are already familiar with the Gromans' wares.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:48 PM
"Whether as a mode of transportation or for sport, the bicycle has been around for quite a while.Jeff Groman has built his business by tapping into that tradition.There is a historical resonance in bike shops, a thread of tradition from the 1800s to the present day, he said. We try to keep that alive and well.Groman and his wife Els have owned Kingston Classic Cycle in downtown Kingston since 1985. Earlier this month, they expanded to Bainbridge, opening Classic Cycle in the Village shopping center.I got tired of commuting, he said. It's nice to both live and work on the island.The Kingston store will be managed by an employee, Groman said, while he will work in the Bainbridge store.The new shop will carry a full line of bicycles and associated gear. Groman said the store is aimed at the family market, as opposed to professional riders.We will carry the high-end stuff, he said, but we want people to feel comfortable coming in to buy a hundred-dollar bike for their kids.What sets the store apart, though, is not just the new merchandise but the memorabilia. Flanking the front door are a high-wheeled bicycle from the turn of the century and a soapbox racer from 1959.Displayed high on one wall area a series of historical racing bicycles. A replica of a 1951 Schwinn is displayed on the rear wall.Most of these are ultra high-quality custom racing bikes, Groman said. Most of these have some history attached to them.He also has cycling-related material. Displayed under the Bainbridge store's counter is a series of beautifully engraved, multi-colored cards, about the size of a business card. They were collectible cards showing various bicycle-related activities such as tandem cycling with one's sweetie or bicycle polo. Ironically, the cards were marketed in England by the John Player tobacco company. Groman provides the cycles that are on display constantly at the Harbour House Pub and the Gabrielli Deli, and are sometimes shown at the Bainbridge Bakery.We change them out every month and a half or two months, and have never had to put in a bike we've already shown, he said.Groman grew up in northern New Jersey. It was a hotbed of bicycle racing because several indoor velodromes are located in the area. So when he began working in bicycle stores in the 1960s, he got to know the great and famous bicycle racers.The famous bicycle racers of the 1930s and 40s were only in their fifties then, he said. I just thought of them as the old guys. Then when I got to know something about bike-racing history, I'd realize that these famous people I was reading about were 'the old guys' I'd see at the store.Groman's interest was in the mechanical end of cycling, rather than the competition end. Although he never raced himself, he hooked up with racing teams as a mechanic.In 1983, he and his wife moved west to Bainbridge Island.A number of friends from around the country had settled in the Puget Sound area, including some from Bainbridge originally who had moved back, he said. We came to see them in 1982, and decided to make the move ourselves.In 1985, they opened a store in Kingston that they called Sacks Feed and Cycle - a combination farm, garden and bike shop. Then in 1990, they divided the businesses, opening the bike store as a free-standing operation and selling the rest.Along the way, Groman inherited a one-of-a-kind set of tools from an elderly friend in New Jersey who was retiring from the bike-repair business.Some of these tools are 90 years old, he said. Some, they invented. It gives us a unique ability to rebuild and restore classic cycles.Groman said that restoring old bicycles frequently involves making parts that are no longer available. And the demand for parts-making skills isn't confined just to bicycle owners.We fix all sorts of things at the Kingston shop, he said. I had one woman bring in a toaster. The bicycle shop used to be the fix-it shop. We don't have fix-it shops anymore.As Groman's expertise has grown, so has his network of contacts and his own collection. And while he still calls it a hobby, he has made it a break-even financial proposition by reselling some bikes and by renting others for such things as movie productions.Storage is becoming an issue, he says, drawing enthusiastic agreement from Els. Not only is their house full of bike-related stuff, he says, but he has a lot of items boarding with friends.Someday I'd love to open a museum, he said, but you need a lot of money for that. "