This afternoon, about an hour before the storm hit, I rode over to Hyde Park Produce for some blueberries and a bag of loose spinach. I set my bike against the wall out front, “locked” it with my helmet, and dashed inside. When I returned, a couple of the stockboys and Reggie, one of the shopping center’s security guards, were huddled around the bike.
“There aren’t any gears.” said Reggie.
“Or brakes.” said Paco, the younger of the stockboys. He looked impressed.
“I usually have a front brake…” I protested, but decided not really to go into it.
“This is from the shop down by Ellis?” asked Paco.
“I like the lights.” he said.
“You should get some. You’re crazy to ride all the way home after work in the dark without lights.” said Reggie.
The older boy nodded. “I have a light on my bike.”
“How much do they cost?” asked Paco.
At that moment, with the skies darkening, a tornado watch looming, and two hours of wheelbuilding to complete before my commute downtown, I paused and tried to think of a way out of the conversation. But I was too slow.
“Those are, like $25 each.” said the older boy.
“I like how the rear one moves like that.” said Paco. “I’m on my break now, can I follow you to the shop?” he asked.
Three years ago, when the shop was located in the sub-basement of an asbestos-filled brownstone, it was meant for precisely this type of interaction. These were dark days, when you could barely find a properly sized tube, let alone a decent selection of lights in the neighborhood. Or helmets. Or tires. Or panniers. But thankfully, the south side retail landscape has changed, and the rise of Blackstone, the Bike Doctor, and Blue City Cycles has allowed TATI to focus on niche products and services. The need to be all things to all people has long since passed.
Or has it?
When we got back to the shop we found Gigi standing out front, ogling the orange Public roadster in the window.
“Oooooooohhhh Weeeee!” he said, pointing at the bike.
Hunter, the barber-next-door, and a fellow octogenarian, was, as always, not impressed.
“Tati. Tati. Tati… do you have that yellow saddle for me?” asked Gigi, as he saw me approaching.
I nodded, “It’s right here.” This particular yellow Regal had been hanging around for some time, and Gigi’s blue Vitus seemed as perfect a fit as I could imagine. “You can try it out first,” I said. “But I think you’ll really like it. Super comfy.”
“I’ll let you gentlemen do your business,” Gigi said. “Oooooooohhhh Weeeee!” and he walked away.
A healthy portion of the TATI’s limited open hours are spent referring folks to other (perfectly deserving and capable) shops. That’s just a fact of life. And so the question is, how does one identify customers who are in particular need of the shop’s understandably limited palette of products and services? This has always been a tough call, and an evolving one at that. But in the last year or so, it’s started to come into focus – as drop ins have been eliminated, mandatory service appointments instituted, and emergency concierge services explored. But then there’s Gigi.
I’ve never seen Gigi wearing fewer than four (bold) colors at a time. He is often sporting a cravat or ascot and sneakers. He jogs through Washington Park every morning at 4am. He loves bicycles, especially 80s steel. Gigi doesn’t own a computer and has never purchased anything online.
Why deflect 90% of the shop’s potential business, but cater to every whim and folly of a slightly nutty eighty-two year old roadie?
The shop was a mess, and I apologized, before leading Paco to the lights.
“Oh, hold UP!” he said. “What. Are. Those?” he asked, nodding towards the Knog display.
“Those are lights, too.” I said, holding out a pink Beetle.
“Are they really expensive?” he asked.
“Nope. Actually, they’re a little less than the Cateyes. They work just fine.” I said.
“I gotta have blue.” he said, picking up a Beetle and a Skink. “Perfect.”
As Paco walked back to work, Hunter poked his head out of the barber shop. “He a bike racer?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“Didn’t think so, he too god-damned FAT to be a bike racer.” he said.
Last summer, Hunter, who is well into his eighties, decided to re-roof his house. On the second day of work, he fell off of his roof and caused all sorts of havoc to his back. But naturally, he returned to work at the barber shop right away. But anyone could see that the injury had slowed him quite a bit. So a few months later, when the first big snowstorm of winter hit, I offered to clear away the snow from his shop’s entry. “No f-in way.” he said, insisting that he could still do it, but I prevailed.
Afterwards, I returned his shovel when in walked Gigi, dressed in an orange and red sweatsuit, yellow cravat, and green puffy jacket.
“You two have the same shop.” he began, “You have the same shop for the same reasons…”
“F——–k.” said Hunter.
I winced, but realized that Gigi was right. Except for the bookmaking, he was spot on.