While big-box competitors may offer cheaper prices for the items found in their bicycle sections, the family-owned shop on the corner of Merrick Boulevard and 233rd Street relies on its service, its quality products and a reputation developed through three generations."You go to a toy store you get a toy," owner Jim Kerns said. "You go to a bike store, you should get a bike. If we can't guarantee it, we won't sell it. That's the one thing we can offer."Kerns' approach to the business has been passed down through three generations. In the 1920s, his grandfather rode a trolley out from Brooklyn to take a job at a bicycle store in Laurelton, then comprised mostly of farmland and an estate where lions were kept for the circus.The family patriarch bought the shop in 1928 and remained there until 1945, when he moved the store a block away to its current location. After Kerns' grandfather died at an early age, Kerns' grandmother took over, followed by his uncles. The last handoff occurred more than a year ago, when Kerns' father Jake passed the baton to him after running the shop for 35 years."It was a nice way to make a living," said Jake Kerns, who still comes in from time to time to work on bicycles and help customers.Through the years, Laurelton Cycle has carried a number of different brands, depending on the quality that was available. Raleigh's bikes, for example, were once crafted in England and Ireland, but the manufacturer was later sold to a mass-producing conglomerate. The Kerns, one of Raleigh's original dealers, then stopped selling the company's bicycles."Once the product changes, if it's not up to our standards, we can't deal with them anymore," Jim Kerns said.Laurelton Cycle is now an authorized dealer of Giant, which focuses solely on making bicycles. The shop offers mid-to high-end mountain bikes and street cruisers, as well as novelty wares like unicycles, tricycles and a bicycle partially powered by an electric motor charged by pedaling.Hidden among the upper shelves are several classic Raleighs, made before the company was taken over but never sold. The bicycles now go for between $400 and $1,000."These things are like wine in the corner of the cellar," Jim Kerns said, noting that immigrants from English-speaking Caribbean nations are particularly fond of the bikes. "They'll look around and see it and go crazy."Many of the Raleighs came from other bike shops, which like mom-and-pop hardware stores were forced out of business by the discount superstores."It's like anything else," Jim Kerns said. "It's not like it was years ago. It's harder and harder."Despite the competition, Jim Kerns said his shop still retained its loyal customers. Many families have patronized Laurelton Cycles for generations and even return to visit if they move away from the area."If they want a good bike, they know to come here," he said.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@times
©2005 Community News Group
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