Hermosa Cyclery’s Steve Collins honored by Rotary

Larry Collins

Rotarian Janice Brittain and Rotary President Regina Sweeney honor Larry Collins. Photo by Robb Fulcher

Pedaling niceness in Hermosa
Hermosa Cyclery partner Steve Collins described vital lessons from his mother, a shock of good fortune and the pleasures of civic involvement as he accepted a new “Businessman of the Year” award from Hermosa Beach Rotary.

The Rotarians honored Collins for decades of altruism that has included donating bicycles – 30 a year to the Beach Cities Toy Drive alone – establishing a busy bike valet program for the Fiesta Hermosa street fairs, and pitching in whenever local service organizations ask for his help.

They did not even mention the free air that cyclists have used for decades, as they pull up to two hoses dangling from a wall of the funky tan building on 13th Street, a short block from the Strand, which rents and sells Strand cruisers and other bikes.

Collins also organized an entry in the town’s most recent St. Patrick’s Day Parade of 100 to 150 bicycles, from pedal-less versions to chrome-dazzling low riders, old-fashioned bikes with the big front wheel, and a weird unicycle thing that consisted of a big wheel that carried a rider as she hung onto a spoke within. Mayor Peter Tucker and City Councilman Jeff Duclos were among the parade’s bike riders.

The Rotarians had asked Collins to appear as guest speaker at their regular luncheon meeting on Tuesday and then surprised him with the award. In attendance at the rotary clubhouse adjacent to Hermosa Valley Park were Collins’ parents, an aunt, his wife Debi and son Jett, and Jeanette Oghigian, the landlord who helped the iconic business survive when it was willed by its late founder to Collins and three other stalwart employees in 2002.

Collins first went to work for Hermosa Cyclery in 1979, five years after it was founded by Harold Schumaker. But it took four tries to convince Schumaker to hire him.

“My mom told me to be persistent,” Collins said. “…The credit goes to my mom for one of the most special days of my life.”

In the late ‘70s through the ‘80s Collins, Larry Burke, Ken Liebowitz and Mark McNeill worked the store while Schumaker famously worked a barstool at the nearby Mermaid Restaurant.

“He liked to go to the Mermaid, and he let the shop run itself,” Collins said.

Schumaker passed away, and his last will and testament gave the shop to Collins, Burke, Liebowitz and McNeill.

“We were more shocked than anyone when we found out the store had been willed to us,” Collins said.

He said Oghigian “saw our love for the store” and nourished it with a lease deal that “might as well have been free, it was so cheap.” Collins added that the partners pay market value now.

Collins described the pleasure of hearing the Cyclery reputation spread beyond the beach cities, where it is known as “the little bike shop with free air.”

He also recalled the “honor” of finding a green bike for a young Georgia boy who had told the Make-a-Wish Foundation that he wanted to spend a week riding a bike – a green one – on the Hermosa Beach Strand.

And Collins spoke of valet parking about 1,000 bikes a day at the Fiesta.

“It was a blast — it’s really rewarding, weirdly,” he said. “I never thought at this point in my life I’d be bragging about parking bikes.”

Collins also touched on a recent proposal by an outside business to use free city land near the Strand to rent bicycles, with the stated aim of attracting commuters to pedal to and from Hermosa.

“I though it was patently unfair,” Collins said, because free city land would give the business a competitive advantage over Hermosa Cyclery and the town’s three other bike shops.

The evening that representatives of the business showed up to ask the City Council for use of the land, Collins was in the audience, preparing to speak against the proposal. He might have gotten a hint about how it would go at the beginning of the meeting, when Tucker asked him to lead the flag salute. The council shrugged at the proposal and let it die.

Collins told the Rotarians that he works on Hermosa Cyclery affairs at night, when he’s done with his day job replicating CDs and DVDs for music labels and other businesses. He said he’d rather spend his nights that way than go to a movie or whatever.

“It couldn’t possibly be more fun – a little bike shop in Hermosa Beach,” he said.

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