Niche shops in Hillsborough are what separate this town from neighboring towns.
Redundant retail businesses are limited here and shop owners and restaurateurs are personal folks, whose skill or trade is as warm as a Southern hello.
On the back alley off King Street, behind Panciuto and Purple Crow and Dual Supply, the newly established Hillsborough Bicycle Company is peddling its niche forward, one bicycle at the time.
In what might be the first and only dedicated bicycle repair shop in Hillsborough proper, father and son owners Aaron and Eli Belz are hoping their business and journey through life strengthens and is absent of too many hills going forward.
From Iowa and then St. Louis, Aaron Belz said he came to Hillsborough through life events that sometimes litter a person’s life. “I can say that when I came here, I was down to the very end, financially,” Aaron Belz said.
A lifelong bicycle enthusiast and English professor at Durham Technical Community College and published poet, with a third book due this winter, Belz describes the moments of deciding to open a bicycle shop as something of a personality trait that allows him to exercise his creative colors.
“I like to take something broken and fix it. I also like to meet different people and this shop allows me to do both; they are equally important as I seek balance in my life and move forward,” Belz said. Sitting in the obviously intimate confines of this shop, which was once a cobbler’s shop, one would think that the elder Belz is the man behind the business. “My son, Eli, he is really the one that is holding this idea together,” says Belz. At the energetic age of 15, Eli Belz, a sophomore at Cedar Ridge High School, spends every day after school and all day on Saturday at the shop tinkering with, replacing, rehabilitating, restoring and repairing modern bikes and bikes made decades ago.
As an understudy at the Durham Bicycle Co-op, Eli Belz found his passion in mechanics and engineering and chained them to the craft and art of bicycle repair. “I had been purchasing bikes and reselling them on Craigslist for years and toying around with frames. I have an appreciation in the mechanics and workings of bicycles; it is just something that I love,” the younger Belz said. “Eli actually knows the history of bicycles. He will always have some fact or trivia about the history of bicycles or know something of time period specific about bicycles,” Aaron Belz said. Already seasoned bicyclist, the two share a love of cruising the landscape on their bicycles and did so, trans-state, last year, riding across Iowa; all 475 miles of it. Belz, the English professor, describes similarities in working on bicycles as he observes in students in his class and people he crosses paths, on foot or bicycle, in life. “I have former prisoners in my classroom and they are characters. They are attempting to re-enter society and I see some of that with how we take long-forgotten bicycles and put them back on the road as good as new,” Belz said.
The shop owners talk about the satisfaction they receive from taking a bicycle that is dusty and rusty and seeing the joy in an owner’s eye when gears and chain exist in lubricated harmony. “We have built bicycles here for owners and refurbished old-Italian bicycles that are really pieces of art,” Belz said.
The walls and shelves and storage areas of the bicycle shop are lined with specialty tools and common parts inventory, and bicycles that are used for salvage are located here and there.
“Eli goes to great lengths to go above and beyond what is requested, and he is going to make sure that nothing is left undone or not in the best condition, when that bicycle leaves here,” Belz said.
Just as there are no average repairs to older or newer model bikes, there is nothing average about the idea that a 15-year-old will have the mechanical ability and business interest to move hobby and passion into business and service. “He is meticulous and detail oriented; if I fail to place a tool back in the correct position, Eli will let me know it,” Belz said of his son.
When they opened on June 26, 2013, there was much riding, literally, on the success and future of this business venture. These shop owners were also seeking an opportunity to become part of the community and serve the community through what they interpreted to be a needed business. “There is such bicycle diversity in this town. On any given Saturday, someone is getting coffee across the street at Cup-A-Joe and their $15,000 bicycle is parked outside, and down the block someone is riding a bicycle that is 15 years old and the owners are doctors and school teachers and the unemployed actor or filmmaker or ex-convict, and they all need a bicycle repair shop; we are here to serve them all,” Belz said.
At the end of the alley between Dual Supply and Purple Crow, a bicycle repair shop is open. With the spirit of moving life forward, one revolution at a time, the Hillsborough Bicycle Company hopes its niche in life and in bikes serves well in Hillsborough.
FIND OUT MORE
Hillsborough Bicycle Company
Hours: Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Online: www.hillsboroughbicycle.com or find it on Facebook
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