Welcome to The Hot Seat, where we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, architecture, development and the like. Introducing Joe Nocella, an architect by day as well as the owner of 718 Cyclery. The bike shop opened in South Slope and moved to Gowanus last year.
Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how did you end up there?
Joe Nocella: I live is the South Slope… was basically pushed there after our steal of a place in Carroll Gardens got too expensive in the mid 90′s. My wife and I are lifelong NYC residents. My family is from the Bronx, hers is LES all the way
BS: Can you talk about the beginnings of 718 Cyclery? How did you move from architecture to owning a bike store?
JN: I didn’t really move FROM architecture, as I am still a licensed/practicing architect at a large firm in Manhattan, HOK. I started building bikes in my backyard after one of my bikes was stolen. I latched onto the process as it represented many of the qualities I found enjoyable in architecture. Most architects will describe a left brain/right brain reason for getting into the profession (science vs. art). To me, bikes represented this duality, and the timeframes for projects were much shorter! You could effect the environment, traffic, people’s health and happiness almost immediately. The backyard business grew and grew for 2 years until we jumped into our 1st storefront.
BS: What’s it like owning a small business in Brooklyn right now? What has been the most difficult aspect of having one? And the best?
JN: “Paying by the rules” in terms of taxes and payroll, etc. has been the biggest challenge. There is so much paperwork. I now see why businesses just throw up their hands and do things “under the table”. Sometimes I feel that I am being penalized for doing things the right way, but in the end I have too much in this business to have it sunk by some Workman’s’ Comp claim from 3 years ago.
The best part is creating something from nothing, and the pride of ownership. Working with one’s hands is something that can never be outsourced. “You can’t hammer a nail over the internet”. People who work with their hands have the most control of their destiny.
After the jump, Joe talks about what makes 718 Cyclery stand out among other bike stores, the growth of Gowanus, and his second favorite bike shop…
BS: When you opened 718 Cyclery, were you looking to open a traditional bike store or do things differently? How have your original goals of the business changed since you’ve been open?
JN: From the start, I wanted to be different than the 160 or so other shops in NYC. We are a place where arrogance and attitude have no place. It’s 120-year-old technology, and nothing that we do is proprietary. You can choose to be open and collaborative about this information, or you can be jerks about it and act holier-than-thou. I’ve had other shops tell me that teaching people how to do things isn’t good for business….when I hear that I just smile to myself and say “Keep thinking that way”… People want to learn, and they are drawn to places where thay have that opportunity. We teach free maintenance classes every week…and believe me, it doesn’t drive people away. You develop a trust and a bond that is 100x deeper than any simple retail transaction.
BS: As a small business owner, is there a fear that as your neighborhood grows, the rent will become too high to stay? There have been a lot of examples of small businesses being priced out in neighborhoods like Park Slope and Williamsburg.
JN: We have only been in the new Gowanus digs (254 3rd Ave) for 5 months now, so its hard to project 10 years down the road. I have a great relationship with the building owner, and truly get the sense that they want me to succeed…if we are making it they have a stable income. Famous last words, but I truly believe it.
Our new next-door neighbor (Juice Heaven) told me that us being there heavily influenced them opening up a shop….its a great feeling to be part of something (the neighborhood) that you can see growing every day. At 5 months, I feel like the grizzled old timer. I can say things like “Back in 2011, this neighborhood was totally different”
The neighborhood reaction has been amazing…people like Ben from Gowanus Your Face Off have been such a great host, bringing alot of us newcomers together.
BS: Finally, your favorites: favorite Brooklyn shop (not your own) and favorite NYC bike trip.
JN: My second favorite bike shop is Red Lantern on Myrtle. Some of the best mechanics with even-keeled attitudes and personality to match. My favorite bike ride is my 9 mile ride from the South Slope to my Midtown Manhattan office. I work for a pretty enlightened firm, and we have bike storage, locker and a shower on our floor. The shower is actually nicer than mine at home!