Whether you found skateboarding through video games, television, or just the aversion to everything going on around you, what a relief it was to find something of your own. While being a very individualistic activity allowing limits to be pushed and creativity to flourish, it was always a relief to find others to skate with. We skated curbs behind funeral homes and were chased off the church 5 stair. We met other groups of skaters and pulled construction materials in developments to make ramps and rails. We still had a “we” and instead of a school sanctioned team, we had our local skate spots and skate shop. In these times of point and click online shopping, the brick and mortar store still serves as the community’s rally point.Scott Lembach and Joe Gutkowski of Muirskate: The Muir van is an integral part of the San Diego downhill community, serving as advertising while bringing skaters out to ride what they sell. Skaters and independent skate shops need to have a symbiotic relationship. At the most basic, skaters need product, and the shop needs to pay rent. I spoke to three shops that I feel loyal to because of the way they build the scene knowing that the scene will, in turn, build the shop. I found common themes through each conversation. Kerry at Dayone in Fairfield, Connecticut told me about Jeff the owner’s love for the newbie. One day a minivan pulled up and out jumped a little guy running splayed footed to the door. He ripped the door open and the smile dropped off his face. “Skateboards?” He was excited to get his first pair of hockey skates. Jeff laughed, it wasn’t a customer, but that smile and the anticipation of a new activity is what he loved. Kerry shares this sentiment about the new guy and last year, ran a promotion for one free lesson with the purchase of your first board. Kids and their parents ate it up. While serving as a first acquaintance to their new skateboard these lessons were also the first invite into the community. The promotion gave parents piece of mind that their little idiot would at least have some sense of keeping himself safe. As the guy behind the counter, you’re the one the smaller kids look up to, the one the seasoned skaters get along with, and the one who helps helicopter parents understand. You, first and foremost, represent the tone of the community, whether that’s going to be an elitist exclusionary club, or welcome everyone with open arms. A successful independent skate shop is not just a pick and go store, it’s a destination in itself. When you walk in, you’re immersed in what you love and surrounded by others who share that sentiment.Muirskate started out as a brick and mortar store on a college campus. When they turned their focus to online sales and grew exponentially, they showed that same growth in their community building. Their event, Downhill Disco, has costumed skaters through various obstacle courses, big air, and slide contests. The event culminates in an after party with bands playing, skaters throwing hard on the mini ramp, and good times with old and new friends.Will Myrvold Owner of Xtreme Board Shop with his welcoming smile. Even when I’ve had to swing by Muir to grab a set of pucks, watching the packagers putting orders together, or Scott leading the place at a million miles an hour, it’s simple to see that this is a skater run, skater supported, skater supporting company. Nothing says more than this than the bathroom walls covered with pinned notes from customers. When your skate shop is also place to skate, Dayone has a ramp out back (Open during shop hours with a waiver), skaters have a place to congregate without being hassled by the nail salon workers with the ledge. The shop is no longer just a shop, the shop is skateboarding. In addition to Dayone’s ramp, they also worked with the town and the local skaters to replace the prefab YMCA park with a well thought out concrete bowl and street course. They connected with the skate park advocates in the area and attended town hall meetings to further the conversation. Using their connections within the industry, they brought in New England’s Breaking Ground, saving the town money by eliminating the expense of housing the workers. Using local builders only furthered the connection the shop had to the local skaters and the local industry. They now see good traffic in between the shop and the park and have even placed the shop on the same side of the Post road, saving the skaters from running across the busy street. Xtreme board shop, led by Will Myrvold, is the local shop to the iconic downhill run GMR. GMR has been the training ground for many prominent racers, from 2011 world champion Mischo Erban, to today’s dominator Tim Del, to up and coming Morgan Smith. When I first saw Morgan skate, his father drove the follow car and we watched him stand tall around one of the tougher corners and disappear into a bush. We threw him into the car and the Xtreme locals gave him tips and showed him how to manage the hill to the point that now he’s proving his own at local races. Knowing that “There’s a special kind of stupid to be a skateboarder,” the Xtreme community is self-policing in the matter of safety, knowing that a good relationship with the town and police allows them to continue to skate the gem.Dayone’s art show: Culture building within the community by skater-accessible art by Kevin “Klav” Derken.Will and his riders take it a step further with Xtreme rider, Ryan Farmer, spearheading hill cleanups. After an early morning skate, the riders walk up the hill, filling trash bags as they go. These cleanups have been featured in the local paper and lend well to the acceptance the skaters on the hill. One of the largest personalities and biggest contributors to the downhill community, Joe Lawrence, was a big part of Xtreme until his last days, and after his passing, continues to be. Downhill boards and equipment can be tougher to move than the consumable street products. When Joe and Will saw buy/sell/trade forums popping up online, instead of being upset at the competition, they offered the shop as a location for gear swaps. They saw the necessity in bringing this idea to a face to face community gathering. Skaters could stand on the board and check the quality and condition of products they wanted to trade or buy. Drawing everyone to the shop allowed Xtreme to sell the accessories to complete purchases. One thing I heard from each head of shop was the intent on building culture within the community. Art has always been a large part of skateboarding, especially in the homogenous industry of street skating. Dayone has held periodic art galleries. Kerry said the art was nice to look, but was priced out of a skater’s range. The art hung in the shop for a month then was collected by the artist. When his old friend Kevin “Klav” Derken held a show, he made small sculptures and figures priced between 10 and 15 dollars. The community ate that up and Klav sold 89 pieces.Dayone’s shop decks capture the local community. Both Xtreme and Dayone have in house screen printing. Dayone screens their shop decks and shirts designed by Klav. Will at Xtreme has his work horse 4 color press bought from one of the riders. In between orders for local companies, event posters and shirts, merch for other skate shops, he screens the XBS “La Familia” shirts. La Familia was Will’s goal coming into the industry. This is the community that the shop cultivates. The only qualification to be in is to want to be in. There’s no room for rejection and Will explains that it doesn’t matter how kooky any one is, once you’re in La Familia, you’re in for life. Through all sorts of petty squabbles that can arise within any group of people, even more compounded by the general weirdness of skaters, Will’s message is that it’s still family.Riding the road maintained by the XBS Familia. Joe Lawrence, died last year from liver failure, I joined the rest of La Familia at the skate shop in Glendora. Will led everyone in a moment of silence. People passed by offering their condolences to whoever looked in need. I joined in wholesome activities behind the shop with other members of the Xtreme team and we took turns telling the stories that this insane individual had left us. The news had hit us hard that week and here we all were, laughing our asses off at how lost Joe would get on skate trips. Low spirits were all turned around gathering at GMR’s local shop. The location and the man behind it were the central point the rest of us orbited. The shop and the community are part of one system that is necessary for us in the best times, and the worst. Operating an independent skate shop can be a precarious position. With different seasons, and the rise and fall of trends, some days are easier than others. Some skaters come and go, part of everyone stays for life. It’s 2017. Faces are buried in cellphones and products are bought on the fly with next day delivery. There’s no substitute for the face to face, or the real world congregation. Independent skate shops will always hold one thing above online shopping, the physical location and real world community building. When the options are open, this is what they rely on to keep the lights on and the doors open.Kerry said about what keeps him most motivated in the shop. “How much it sucked when he didn’t have a skate shop. Even on the days when there’s no money or you owe money, at least we’ve got this place, so it’s really special.”
I met up with Mike Jones, owner of AZHIAZIAM Skate and Surf Shop when I visited the notorious Jonny Miller up in Morro Bay. As you will soon discover, Mike has parlayed a terrific name into a retailing success story.
You have a pretty cool background – a surfer who went into the Navy. You wind up in Japan as a biological warfare specialist. How do the two relate?
Coming from a long line of veterans in our family, I decided I would like to serve also, so I figured the Navy would be the best choice, being a surfer and wanting to travel the World and catch waves. It was a four year surf trip, where I worked very hard for months at a time, then I would find myself in some far off land surfing obscure waves in the middle of now where. I was very lucky that I was able to bring my surf and skateboards everywhere we went.
How did your shop come about?
I never planned on having a shop, I started making AZHIAZIAM stickers, then people started asking for shirts and hats, so I made shirts and hats. After about a year of selling the stuff out of my van and bedroom (people would actually come to my house and shop in my bedroom, I had a couple racks of clothes that I screen printed all of the clothes in my bedroom also.) Over time it started getting weird, people I didn’t know showing up asking to buy stuff, sometimes late at night and randomly during the day. I realized I needed an actual spot to sell the stuff so I could have my privacy back.
We know that Moro Bay has an incredible skateboard museum and is the near the home of Jonny Miller. What else is cooking in your town?
The hills and the waves! We have a ton of good surf here and a couple of really fun hills the local guys like to bomb. Other than than, great skate parks all around, Los Osos, Cayucos and San Luis Obispo all have insane places to skate.
Online shopping is continuously growing and its impacting many shops. What do you feel independent board shops need to get customers excited?
Keep it fresh and original, if you are buying the same brands that everyone carries online, your piece of the pie is small. If you have a cool local brand in your area, try to snag it and pump it up!