In August, the Wiggle Bicycles — a bike service and repair shop on 518 Waller Street — closed after a decade, further casting a light on how even well-supported local small businesses can sink amid swallowing overhead costs.
By Michael Gaines
My friend Garret Peters closed his bike shop last month. For the past ten years, the Wiggle Bicycles has been an institution — on the actual Wiggle bicycle network in our neighborhood of the Lower Haight of San Francisco.
Peters fell in love with the neighborhood when he was a young boy visiting his uncle, exploring all the nooks and crannies of the environs; he quickly fell enamored with its urban grit and charm. Peters and his family were pulled to the Bay Area in the 1980s — first the uncle, then the rest of his clan.
Originally trained as a Jazz Musician at Florida State, Peters brought his love of music to the space and his creativity to how he brought old bikes and rigs back to life. Not just a mechanic, he was brilliant in enlisting the customer to revive their two-wheeled machines.
We have all read plenty of articles about the decay of the retail core. However, something for me felt different about this one, maybe because it was such a personal institution.
Peter’s shop had been a gathering place for all kinds of people, commuters, avid cyclists, or neighbors walking their dogs looking to say hello. I’ve lived in the Lower Haight for almost 10 years – SF since ’97 — and have been enamored with this neighborhood’s mix of 90’s hip hop and 80’s punk grit. A mixture of mom-and-pop businesses, and rich immigrant merchant stories, all having a desire to serve this micro community of 9,500 residents that I proudly call home.
They say it takes a village to raise a child; I would add it takes a neighborhood to keep a merchant.
I have banded together as the Lower Haight Merchants & Neighbors Association (LoHaMNA), a non-profit volunteer organization of engaged neighbors and friends, to rally the merchants and residents into a common mission of keeping our neighborhood a vibrant core. We have done what many have done in other communities: holiday events like our Halloween block party, quarterly art walks, merchant grants to help improve spaces or help them start marketing campaigns, delivering food from our restaurants to customers on foot and bike during the pandemic for those in need who were struggling with the delivery fees, and many more initiatives.
But I always struggle wondering if it’s enough.
We’re all clinging to hope for the future, and lamenting retail from a bygone era. They say it takes a village to raise a child; I would add it takes a neighborhood to keep a merchant.
As we experience more of this loss, I hope the patron, the neighbor, and the landlord all reflect on the critical role they play in weaving the fabric of our neighborhoods, and ask ourselves what we are doing to ensure they can survive in a post-pandemic era, or are we just clicking and shopping?
As neighbors do we know who owns the retail spaces near us and do we appropriately challenge them to be stakeholders in the merchant’s and neighborhood success, versus just collectors of rent?
Garret Peters is now gone, but maybe he will return, or we can save another. I just know he sweated for this neighborhood — and we were all the better for it.
Feature image: Courtesy of Michael Gaines