There is an old saying that one finds beauty in the most unexpected places. This is definitely true for anyone who visits Faber’s Cyclery on 1st and Margaret in downtown San Jose, California. But what makes this bicycle shop so beautiful? And why is it that this antique establishment, right in the middle of the high-tech capitol of the world, has remained in business since 1921?
Questions like these-dealing with history and the context of tradition-are indeed quite puzzling and difficult to answer. But they are important and worthwhile for every community, whether large or small, to consider.
What makes Faber’s Cyclery both beautiful and long-lasting has a little to do with its history, and everything to do with its owner, Alexander LaRiviere. With selfless and kindhearted devotion, he strives to make his community a better place. A large part of this is LaRaviere’s sheer determination not to let another piece of history fall apart and become another strip mall or condominium. It is a heartening combination that has kept this little bike shop standing tall.
The History of Faber’s Cyclery
The building Faber’s Cyclery has called home for eighty-four years has been many things since it was first built in the mid 1800’s. It was first a saloon called, “Benjamin’s Corner,” with two back rooms occupied by plumbing and blacksmithing shops. According to LaRaviere, during the shop’s saloon days, it was also the zero mile marker for the stagecoach. The original bar top from Benjamin’s Corner and many of the plumbing and blacksmithing tools can still be seen today by visitors to Faber’s Cyclery.
In 1912 Jake Faber opened Faber’s Cyclery just blocks down the street from where it is today. Then in 1919 when prohibition closed down Benjamin’s Corner, and by 1921 Jake Faber took over the boarded up saloon for his shop.
LaRaviere believes that the building permit issued to Jake Faber in 1921 he has seen proves that his bike shop could be the oldest, continuously running bike shop in the United States. Alex LaRiviere began working in his dad’s bicycle shop when he was 3 years old, and owned his own bicycle shop at the age of 12. In 1978 Alex began leasing Faber’s Cyclery and has remained the proud owner ever since.
Learning about Local History
Faber’s Cyclery is not just a bicycle shop. Alex states that it is a historical walkthrough site where the community can come together and learn, “How things were 100 years ago, and how things are now.” Says LaRaviere, “I think that you learn how to make the community a better place by understanding how it was that you got to where you are at.”
Wandering into the back room, you can see the original wood burning stove that kept the plumbers warm during the frigid winters. Farther on you will find the blacksmith shop where you can almost hear and see a sweat-drenched man slamming a hammer to work a piece of metal. What I didn’t know prior to visiting Faber’s Cyclery was the important roles these jobs played in our history and their connection to bicycles.
As Alex and I walked through the Faber’s Cyclery he shared with me that blacksmith workers were the first bicycle makers and were the most sophisticated mechanics of their time. But when the industrial revolution hit, there was a surge of jobs that needed to be satisfied in order to push forward the country’s new technological direction. Consequently it was the blacksmith workers/bicycle makers and mechanics that contributed greatly to the development of the first cars, motorbikes, planes and engines.
With the progression of time, trains and other modern modes of transportation made the stagecoach obsolete and shut down the stagecoach stop outside Benjamin’s Corner.
Faber’s Cyclery is a place that makes one feel at home, and elicits a deep sense of being part of a community. Strong communities are traditionally places where social contributions and active community members abound. Alex believes that crime and drug abuse could be lessened if everyone were to help others more, because when one is inspired to help others, it becomes easy to forget about his or her problems.
The greatness of Faber’s Cyclery today has everything to do with its current owner and caretaker. It has been his commitment to maintaining this little bike shop that has kept it alive and out of the hands of encroaching commercial development that now faces many local businesses across America. It truly is part of the “mom and pop store” breed that is so rapidly dwindling away.
In fact, Alex just won a court battle over severe pressure developers have put on his landlord to sell the property. The victory will allow LaRaviere to keep this gem alive for another 14 years in downtown San Jose.
Many Americans lucky enough to have hometowns have witnessed the history and community of the places they grew up in be uprooted and replaced with increasingly newer and slicker ways to make money and sell conveniences. Perhaps the driving force behind Alex’s LaRaviere’s mission is to heal the community through keeping history alive and demonstrating unflinching kindness before the march of progress. In fact, his own hometown was torn down when he was a child. Alex says, “I remember I cried and I thought it was terrible…there went my whole life, and I could never go back to it.”
If we took a close look, we might find a Faber’s Cyclery in every hometown facing the same difficulties. At least for now, this one piece of our past in one hometown is in good hands.