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Jersey City becomes more bike-friendly all the time, and Grove Street Bicycles is in the middle of it all.

It’s springtime on Grove Street, and bikes are coming out of storage. Families head toward the Waterfront Walkway or down to Liberty State Park for a casual ride. Commuters pull up to racks at the PATH station and double-check their locks before heading into the city. The BMX kids try new tricks they studied on YouTube this winter. However different, these riders have something in common: they’ll all be dropping by Grove Street Bicycles before long.

The shop, which opened in April 2009, was the brainchild of BMX street-riding legend Ralph Sinisi. Seeking to diversify his career, Sinisi opened the Jersey City-based Animal Bikes company in 2000. Animal quickly became a major force in the industry, manufacturing and selling bike parts and clothing, sponsoring top riders, and producing a popular series of BMX videos. ESPN named Sinisi one of the “50 Most Influential People in Action Sports.” Continuing to seek new opportunities, he realized there was a burgeoning need for a bike shop downtown. With more and more people relying on bikes as part of their commute, a location near the PATH was a no-brainer. Sinisi approached bicycle-industry veterans Rodney Morweiser (pictured below) and Mike Wilson about planning and opening a full-service store. (Wilson is no longer affiliated with Grove Street Bicycles.)

[caption id="attachment_57033" align="aligncenter" width="439"]Grove Street Bicycles Owner Rodney Morweiser Grove Street Bicycles Owner Rodney Morweiser - Photo Josh Dehonney © Harmony Media, NJ[/caption]

Four years later, the shop is thriving. Grove Street Bicycles offers a wide assortment of bicycles, accessories, clothing, shoes, and tools, but it’s the commitment to their neighbors that really sets GSB apart. “It’s all about the community with this store. We really want to get down to that old hometown kind of feel,” Tony DiPaolo, the shop’s mechanic, tells JCI. “People know they can come here instead of having to go over to Hoboken or across the river.”

Sales associate Nick Bardzilowski, a McGinley Square resident, certainly feels that community spirit. “We know a lot of customers by name,” he says.

One of the regular customers is Wayne Lyons, chef and owner of the nearby Soul Flavors restaurant. When Lyons was in the market for a delivery bike, he had specific needs in mind. “Well, you know, traversing Jersey City streets, you better have something that’s going to stand up to certain areas in terms of potholes, stuff like that,” Lyons says. “You don’t want anything too delicate.” The staff helped him select a bicycle by Specialized, the Expedition, which Specialized classifies as a multi-use model—for cities, recreation, and off-road riding. This bike fit the restaurant’s budget, and Lyons has been pleased with the results. “It’s a great quality bike. They maintain it for us,” he says. Bikes purchased at the store receive free lifetime service. “They’re a great company. Really nice guys. We’re glad they’re here.”

Many area riders are also glad the shop is here—and not always for purchases. “We have tire pumps out all the time,” Bardzilowski says. “The same people come and use our pumps every day.”

The pumps are not the shop’s only complimentary service. Every Saturday morning, DiPaolo holds a free flat-changing class. On Sunday mornings before the shop opens, the staff leads long rides—through Hoboken, up to the Palisades and George Washington Bridge—also for no charge. “People buy a road bike; they don’t know where to go or who to ride with,” DiPaolo explains. And the staff gets to know their customers a lot better on the rides. “It helps put a face to the helmet,” DiPaolo adds.

Serious riders quickly learn that Grove Street’s staff is as passionate about bikes as they are. DiPaolo has more than sixteen years experience in the industry and has raced mountain bikes. “I’ve just kind of been wrenching all my life,” he says. In addition to his expertise in bike repair, DiPaolo is also quite well versed in Jersey City lore. His dad worked for more than forty years at the old Schiavone-Bonomo scrap metal yard off Jersey Avenue. The younger DiPaolo also worked there for a few years in the late 1980s.

Bardzilowski has ridden BMX since age 12, and started working on bikes a few years later. Christopher De Los Angeles, a newer sales associate at Grove Street, had previous experience at a couple of New York shops. His commute to the shop from the Bronx isn’t always by bike, but he’s working up to it. “I’d like to do it at least twice a week,” he says. Eddie Meek rounds out the sales staff, while Morweiser’s wife, April, works part-time as the shop’s accountant.

With the increasing popularity of commuting by bike, Grove Street is fighting another growing trend: bicycle theft. In December, Hoboken police busted a Jersey City theft ring, recovering 52 stolen bicycles worth about $40,000. Bardzilowski cautions, “It’s super important that you use a U-lock in this area.” He recently left warning flyers on improperly locked bikes at the PATH station, and the shop offers free lock tutorials. Commuters can also store their bikes at the Grove Street shop for $1 a day. Long-term storage is also available, at a climate-controlled, barbed-wire-protected warehouse across town.

[caption id="attachment_57014" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Some of the swag and merchandise up for grabs at the shop Some of the swag and merchandise up for grabs at the shop - Photo Josh Dehonney © Harmony Media, NJ[/caption]

The shop itself has evaded theft, but Bardzilowski recalls an interesting experience with a vanished bike. “We had a test ride go on for about five hours. We called the cops on her because we didn’t know where she was … Then a customer said he’d seen her in the parking lot around the corner. She was doing laps, the same loop non-stop, for five hours.” When they tracked the culprit down, she told staff,  “I feel like Lance Armstrong riding this bike.” She did not, after all that, purchase the bike.

A more genuine setback for the shop was Superstorm Sandy. The storm surge left four feet of water in the store’s basement, which also serves as DiPaolo’s mechanic workshop. The shop incurred about $100,000 in damages including lost inventory. However, the staff quickly sprang into action to get back in business, which included meticulous hand-washing of expensive repair tools. As a result, the shop was only closed for three days. GSB fulfilled an important need in post-Sandy weeks. “People wanted to buy bikes,” Bardzilowski remembers. “You couldn’t get gas anywhere.” Even for those not in the market for transportation alternatives, Grove Street opened their doors as a charging station, while others brought in coffee and snacks. “It was in that sense of, just having a place to go,” DiPaolo says. In that same spirit of community, the shop later launched a “Take Back the Holidays” event, serving as a “pop-up” location for area businesses that still hadn’t recovered from the storm. Cocoa Bakery, Kanibal Home, Nightingale Projects printing, and the WorryWoo Monsters book and doll company all participated in the one-day sale.

It’s all part of Grove Street’s philosophy of giving back, typified by their donation program. Anyone who donates an old bike to the shop receives $25 in store credit. DiPaolo then restores the bikes to top working order. Finally, the bikes are given to charities such as Good Goes Around, which provides bicycles to less fortunate children, and Asbury Park’s Second Life Bikes, where young people learn to work on old bikes and eventually earn one of their own.

The success of Grove Street Bicycles has no doubt been assisted by Jersey City becoming a more bike-friendly city in recent years (such as the continuing construction of the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, which will ultimately stretch 18.5 miles from the Bayonne Bridge to the George Washington Bridge). And JC is getting bike-friendlier all the time. Recently, the first permanent bike lanes were installed on Grove Street. The city plans to eventually have 35.2 miles of striped bike lanes plus 19.5 miles of shared lanes marked on the street with “sharrows” that will connect JC's various neighborhoods. (See bike lane map here.)

To the staff of Grove Street Bicycles, these are all welcome additions to the bike-centric lifestyle that they embody and advocate. Bike culture is clearly more than a business for them. DiPaolo says, “On Saturday nights in the spring and summer, all of us will go out to dinner. The best thing: You just jump on your bike and take off. Others are sitting there, waiting at the tunnel.”

“No parking spots, no waiting,” Bardzilowski chimes in.

“You carry a lock in your backpack, you’re off and running,” DiPaolo adds. “Nothing can touch you. You can go anywhere and everywhere.”

Grove Street Bicycles  is located at 365 Grove Street, 201.451.2453. For more information, visit grovestreetbicycles.com

This article appeared in the 2013 Spring issue of JCI Magazine.  © Harmony Media, NJ. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without written permission. Information regarding plans to make Jersey City more bike friendly has been updated in this version. *Correction: In the Spring Issue of JCI Magazine the photo caption on page 36 is of Grove Street Bicycle owner Rodney Morweiser. 

Photos: Josh Dehonney © Harmony Media, NJ

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