The Mettle for Pedal: Enoch’s Bike Shop is a Wheel Wonder
BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | “Wear a helmet” and “don’t go too cheap” are aphorisms Enoch Hooper dishes out like a Zen master doles out koans, when customers enter the doors of his eponymously named Enoch’s Bike Shop. The longtime Hell’s Kitchen resident and business owner may be a fan of short statements, but his knowledge of bicycles is a well that runs deep.
Hooper caught the bike bug after he moved to New York City in 1970. Born in Panama, he lived in various places and went to school in Tampa, Florida. He moved to the city because he “just wanted to go someplace exciting.”
After a stint as a cab driver, Hooper worked as a bike messenger, on and off, for the next 10 years. He was employed by several services, including what he termed “can carriers.” “They used to deliver a lot of films, which in those days came wrapped in big sardine cans,” Hooper explained.
“The good thing was a lot of freedom,” he told Chelsea Now during a recent visit to his shop. “Nobody telling you what to do constantly. The body’s full of endorphins, feeling good most of the time. And I like to look around a lot — what a wonderful place to do that, this city.”
To keep his bike in working order, he learned how to do repairs. “Bicycles are fragile things, so you either pay somebody to fix them for you or you learn how to fix them,” he said. He then started fixing other people’s bikes, including those belonging to friends.
“I turned that into a small business where I would do the repairs at the messenger office. Little by little, it just grew to where it became pretty clear that my next step should be at a storefront and open a shop,” he recalled.
Hooper moved to Hell’s Kitchen — around W. 48th St. and 10th Ave. — in 1976 because of “cheap, cheap rent.” He opened up his bike shop in the neighborhood in 1983 because he lived “right around the corner.” The store’s first location was 699 10th Ave. (btw. W. 47th & 48th Sts.), and business was good.
“I catered to messengers mainly,” he recalled. “There weren’t a lot of normal people — I use the word normal — but ‘regular’ people that would ride bicycles. Nothing like it is nowadays. Very little competition; not that many bike shops. Whereas now, they’re all over the place.”
After 13 years at that location, Hooper had to move. The city owned the building and wanted to do renovations, and he would have had to shutter his business for a long time if he stayed. The store opened at its second spot, 756 10th Ave. (btw. W. 51st & 52nd Sts.) in 1996, and business “was not as good as the first location.”
The landscape was starting to change. There was more competition from other stores, and from a number of bicycle parts mail-order houses that had started up in the early 1990s. In 2009, Enoch’s moved to 10th Ave., on the corner of W. 37th St. About four and a half years ago, the store moved to a different spot in the same building, Hooper said, with its current location between W. 36th and 37th Sts.
“It’s a struggle,” he said, saying there are not enough customers. “Middle of the road retail is pretty much dead now days. Places like this… [it’s] very difficult to sell merchandise nowadays ’cause the Internet will sell a bicycle for just about what I have to pay for it wholesale, I guess because of the volume that they buy in. So we’re mostly focusing now on repairs.”
Hooper said the most common thing that people need fixing is flat tires or replacing a tire, as well as repairing brakes and gears. “We’re very good at repairs, and we’re fair [with] pricing and we’re friendly,” he said. “I’ve got a guy here who people really like, Will — the guy who runs the place when I’m not around. I’m almost semi-retired at this point, so he’s here more than I am lately.”
William Gillespie, 52, has worked at Enoch’s Bike Shop on and off for about 20 years. “It’s fun. It’s independent. It’s a small business — you don’t have the same obligations as the corporate world,” Gillespie told Chelsea Now by phone. “I get paid to ride a bicycle.”
Gillespie was also a bike messenger, and started volunteering at Enoch’s in the winter of 1996 to learn the trade. By the spring, he was working at the shop.
Hooper, who had soot on his hands during our visit, also still does repairs, which he enjoys. “It’s like you’re helping people,” he said. Some customers have been coming to the store for 30 years, and Hooper has lived at the same place in the neighborhood since 1976.
He said that Hudson Yards — a stone’s throw away from the shop — has helped his business by turning commuters into customers. “Some of these office buildings are encouraging bicycle riding by having showers and bike rooms to store their bikes,” he said. “Most of that’s still in the future though, but there is one that’s already doing that.”
Both Hooper and Gillespie said Citi Bike — there is a stand catty-corner from the store — has affected rentals. “The rentals, there’s so much competition in that area that everybody’s dropped their prices to where now it’s a ridiculous rate of $6 an hour,” Hooper said. “Whereas 10 years ago, I was charging $10 an hour.”
For his part, Hooper, 73, still rides. “Everywhere I go, I go on a bike if I can — it’s good for you,” he said. Having owned and ran a small business for over three decades, Hooper said the best part was, “You don’t have to take junk from somebody — that’s the main thing.”
Enoch’s Bike Shop is located at 480 10th Ave. (btw. W. 36th & 37th Sts.). Hours: Mon.–Sat., 9am–6:30pm and Sun., 9am–6pm. Call 212-582-0620 or visit enochsbikes.com.