History of rob and charlie's
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It was the late 1970’s, and I was working at a bicycle store in downtown Santa Fe. Every so often, salesmen would come by with some oddball wheeled product. One day, a guy persuaded me that skateboards were the new thing.
(I remembered being in college in the mid 1960’s and someone finding a toy with metal rollerskate wheels, about maybe 10” long and inscribed with some toe prints and “Hang Ten.” I think he had been to California and maybe surfed once or twice. We drank beers and messed with it. There were some 20’ runs and some skinned knees and elbows, nothing a few more beers couldn’t handle.)
These were different – maybe 30” long with some kind of colorful fibreboard deck and forgettable trucks and wheels. For a few days I thought they were just fine until Rob appeared with his girlfriend and his best friend. He was 14, but talked like a banker. He showed me info on some much better products. There were Chicago trucks, Cadillac Da Kine wheels and Fibreflex decks – all components. He had figured the wholesale price for 3 complete sets, doubled it to provide a comfortable retail margin, had calculated shipping and tax. He had in hand a complete cash advance payment and the phone #’s of all companies concerned, all written out neatly. I was no fool.
I persuaded my boss to hire him and together we sold $35,000 worth of skateboards that year and a similar amount at the store’s branch in Albuquerque. The trend was off, and even trends were new then.
Pretty soon we found another one. We began realizing that new bicycle products were emerging based on old sizes. The old "American" set of specs had been derived from the idea that bicycle frames would be welded and have only 40,000 pound tensile strength – not enough. Standard in the rest of the world was to join the steel without melting it together at the joints, a process causing the steel to crystalize and lose half its strength. Instead, since at least 1900, bicycles in other countries had their frames constructed by gluing them together, brazing, with liquid brass or silver at 840 degrees.
There is another way to join tubing at the wrong temperature – heliarc welding. In that system, a cloud of inert gas prevents the steel from boiling and full strength is maintained.
The story goes that Gary Turner had a beard and a welding torch, saw the poor quality children’s bikes being proffered by American manufacturers and made one himself. He used the frame designs for 40,000 pound strength but made them at 80,000 and even 90,000 pound strength. Suddenly he had a super bike. He called his company GT.
Soon of course, he had competitors, Mongoose and others. Another trend was off.
Before long, when that store closed, Rob and I borrowed $4,000 from his dad and opened up rob and charlie’s.
We had $1,000 for brick to fill in gaps in the floor of an old gas station where lifts had been. We built a storefront for $600. I made a sign. We had just $1,000 for inventory. We could only afford to stock components. If people wanted a complete bicycle, we would help them shop at our competitors and ask only the favor of their accessory business. That year we sold $99,000 worth of goods at retail.
We were riding the trend of BMX, started really by Gary Turner, and now being assembled and transformed component by component. Redline introduced the chrome-moly handlebar and 4 point bolting gooseneck. Soon Mongoose brought out a complete bike. In a daring move, we ordered 14 and sold them all. They had the worst guarantee I ever saw in English, but not one ever broke its frame. John Bedford threw one off the roof of La Fonda Hotel and rode it away.
Meanwhile, roller skates were undergoing a similar transformation. Roller rink technology was meeting outdoor high-rebound wheels. We found a place in Venus Texas that had a railroad car full of excellent but outmoded rink skates. Trouble was, their fine trucks were based on a different, 9/32 axle than the 5/16 now standard in skateboards. Nothing a few inserts and nylock nuts couldn’t cure, and we rapidly sold $100,000 worth of outdoor roller skates as the nation went mad for jogger disco-rola. One time we received an order of 750 Kryptonic wheels – 3 cases. In a fit of hyper-modernism, we threw them all at Tiffany McDonald. For a few minutes, the store was alive with wheels. Then we cleaned them all up.
We also had a hose connected behind the counter and occasionally charged out at the crowd out front. There was a rope running up through the ceiling from the front door to an Oakley grip dangling over the counter.
It was a fun place, and before long, we had a copycat competitor on the other corner of our block, The Fun Store. More fun ensued, and we ended up the funner.
But the downtown area was now booming, and unless you wanted to sell gloves or emeralds, rents were no longer affordable, so we moved to St. Michael’s Drive.
By now, the impact of high strengths applied to old American designs had hit the 26” wheel size and mountain bikes emerged. Since we were still largely focused on components, our customers were among the most adventuresome of the early experimenters.
They were busily inventing a category of life called action sports and we were happy to keep up with the hardware. Soon we were ordering pieces of plywood shaped like a cutoff toboggan, with a place to stand and two holes in the nose for a rope to hold onto. Jake Burton Carpenter and others were inventing the snowboard and ours was the first store in New Mexico to sell one.
Soon, a customer from Los Alamos advised us that he had bought some far better roller skates, with wheels in line. We looked into them and found that Ole’s Innovative Sports had bought the leftovers of North American Sports Trading Company and, before long, was calling them Rollerblades.
Meanwhile, our bike customers had not been idle. As the 26” wheel was being explored, many of our 20” wheel enthusiasts had grown taller, but hated to give up the unique properties of this wheel size. They began racing around dirt tracks, called it BMX (Bicycle Moto-Cross), and a national racing circuit developed. They began doing tricks while waiting for races to start and Freestyle emerged as a special category.
During the last 36 years, we’ve sold a lot of different things, but always kept focus on our core wheeled and human-powered products: mechanisms of joy. We try to be responsive to customers of all ages and incomes and provide a comprehensive inventory.