With his tall frame, distinctive personal style, and penchant for riding his bike everywhere he goes, Dave Gilbert is a real 12South neighborhood character. He’s also one of the first people we met when Imogene + Willie opened.
Professionally, Dave’s an entrepreneur par excellence. His latest venture is Salttt, a local product development agency and consultancy that assists companies with design, development, and deployment of new products, focusing on consumer electronics, web services, and retail experiences. On a more personal note, Dave’s a loyal I+W customer, and a true friend of the store. He wears our clothes often and well – so well, in fact, that we’ve asked him to model for us on occasion. (That’s Dave with his bike, pictured below; his bearded mug can also be seen smiling off the cover of our Love Fades book.)
Dave shares our passion for the things that make the neighborhood he and Imogene + Willie both call home so wonderful, from the people who live here to the businesses where we spend our free time. Among these small companies is Halcyon Bike Shop, located a stone’s throw away from our store and close enough to Dave’s apartment that he never has to worry about getting flat tires changed in a jiffy.
Because he does have such a close relationship with Halcyon, we asked Dave to profile the store for this week’s OV. Here’s his highly-informative and amusing report:
On any given day, Halcyon sees an array of characters: a rat-patroller mixing with neighborhood dads pulling baby trailers or child trainers; young boys who ride to Halcyon Avenue from their side of the neighborhood on cheap big-box store bikes, some without chains or brakes; curmudgeonly commuters with helmets and reflective vests that ride on greenways and bike lanes far outside the city. Each of them has a story.
Last summer, for instance, a Dominican gentleman walked into Halcyon on a particularly hot day, pushing a beater-bike that was far too large for him. He told Seth, the young, mustachioed bike mechanic, about how he left his home to start fresh in the USA – about how, in Miami, he had acquired the bike and ridden it all the way to Nashville. While Seth worked on the guy’s bike, he imagined what the guy’s journey must have been like, traveling from sugar cane farm to south Florida followed by a 900-mile ride north.
Halcyon has a policy that if a customer leaves a bike unclaimed it becomes a parts bike. If Seth can’t repair a part on one bike, he harvests a replacement from a “parts bike,” like an organ donation. Occasionally, this policy is misunderstood.
When the Dominican fellow returned to the store to check on his bike, things didn’t go so well. He accused Seth of stealing the good parts off the bike. He broke into a sweat. He began to curse, first in English, then in Creole, directing what might be a sort of Santería hex at the bike, the shop – maybe even at Seth. A swarm of bees appeared and began to circle Seth’s head.
On another sunny Nashville day, a sylph-like Swiss girl walked into the shop fresh off a Greyhound bus that brought her down from NYC where she had been crashing at the home of Seymour Stein, founder of Sire Records. She said she planned to buy a bike and ride it to LA, by way of Memphis. That night, she planned to stay at a local hostel in Nashville, which she told the startled Halcyon crew is called the “Rescue Mission.” Her stuff was already there.
When Andrew Parker and Elise Tyler started Halcyon, they wanted to create a place where they could hire their best friends and serve everyone who came through the door. Seth Murray was their first hire; he helped to design and run the shop before leaving to tour with his band. Another mechanic, Andrew’s kid sister, Stephanie – a porcelain doll flecked with bearing grease – left the shop and moved to China last year.
Today, Andrew, handsome and even-keeled, is the sole owner and one of the two remaining members of the original crew. The other, Dan Alan, was hired when he was a 17-year-old University School student. In his job interview, Andrew asked him to break down and rebuild an old three-speed hub: “He did it first-try without looking at the diagram,” he remembers. In addition to Dan, the current crew includes Chris Calis (“good with his hands,” says Andrew) and Josh Badger, whose girlfriend works a couple of blocks away at Imogene + Willie.
Influenced by Elise’s interest in Japanese pop culture, early on the crew decided to personify the bikes in the store, giving each a name and a story. The first cruiser bike they dubbed “Frenchie.” They called the first kid’s bike “The Ultimate Jammer,” and painted it neon pink and green. “You know that kind of spray paint that crackles after it dries?” Seth asks. “It looked like The Ultimate Warrior” – the “nom de guerre” of former 1990s WWF champion James Brian Hellwig.
Halcyon’s ontologists felt that the standard bicycle categories – mountain bike, road bike, etc. – were too restrictive, so they created new categories like “jammer” and “party bikes.” What’s a party bike? “A cheap bike, no more than $150, that you would not feel bad about riding to a party and leaving it unchained outside,” Seth explains. “Bikes that aren’t begging to be stolen, but that still have a lot of personality and are easier to ride. Bikes that you can hop on and ride drunk, relatively safely.”
The old Halcyon building has a long history. Back in the day, Off 12th Records was in the front room, and Halcyon Books in the back. Elise was fifteen when she convinced Angela Messina, a local artist and the space’s former proprietor, to allow her to work “in exchange for books and zines and stuff like that.” Before that, the house had been the office of the singer and songwriter John Loudermilk. The Allman Brothers may have signed their first deal in the space. In any case, it’s not unusual for someone to walk into Halcyon today and exclaim something like, “Oh my god, back in the ’80s we’d come in here and do Ecstasy all night!”
The huge orange Nishiki bike frame that hung on the wall forever once belonged to Alice Cooper – or so the story goes. The neighborhood yardman who brought it in had tended Cooper’s lawn and the frame had been a gift. The bike was so large that Seth speculates it would have been comfortable for a guy 6’8’’ or 6’10’’. Whether the yardman’s story is legit or not, all concur that the bigger question is why any shop would sell the Shock Rocker a bike that didn’t fit him. (Vincent Damon Furnier, aka Alice Cooper, is only 5’9’’).
Back to the Swiss sylph: She ended up staying with Elise for a week, rather than at the Rescue Mission. When it came time to choose her bike, the crew looked her up and down, taking in her white-blond hair and her candy-colored tights. “You like pink?” They ended up building her a long-range bike with a big rack covered in lots of pink paint. She pedaled off to Memphis, and then down long American highways to Los Angeles.
And the Dominican gentleman? Andrew heard his commotion and intervened: “Dude, what’s with the bees?” Seth darted one way, out of the bee halo, and the fellow skulked off the other, on foot, and hasn’t been seen since. Seth felt terrible about the misunderstanding, but would take no chances.
Unlike other Halcyon orphans, this bike did not quickly end up in the parts pile – not with a hex on it. For as long as Seth worked at the shop he wouldn’t let the other mechanics touch it.