In most American cities, where 20th century development meant bulldozing 19th century neighborhoods and leaving others to neglect and blight, there are stubborn survivors who refuse to pack up and move to the shiny new edges of the city. In San Jose, in the shadow of a ten-lane freeway, Faber’s Cyclery is a rare survivor.
In 1912, Jake Faber opened a small bicycle shop on the south side of downtown San Jose. In less than 10 years, he expanded his business and relocated to a former saloon on 1st Street shut down by prohibition. In the back were plumbing and blacksmith shops, built when the saloon anchored the stagecoach line to the mines at New Almaden. Given that the first bike makers were blacksmiths, it must have seemed like a sensible move.
In the 1950s, neighboring homes and businesses one block over were cleared for the I-280 freeway, and the block across 1st street became a cloverleaf ramp. But Faber’s Cyclery survived. In 1978, Alex LaRiviere, a bike shop owner from Santa Cruz, took over the Faber’s business and kept it going.
In 2007, it was nearly shut down due to building code violations and a dispute with his landlord, the granddaughter of Jake Faber. But Faber’s Cyclery survives and remains in operation, albeit only one day a week, Saturdays from 11am-5pm.
What’s the secret of its survival? From what I’ve read it’s Alex LaRiviere’s passion for bicycles and their history. LaRiviere doesn’t give up on old bicycles, mending them from his stockpile of parts. He doesn’t tire of educating others of the bicycle’s impact on society. Most importantly, he won’t give up on preserving an important piece of San Jose’s bike heritage, the bike shop he claims is the oldest in continuous operation in the US.
Last week, Faber’s hosted the State of Bicycle Planning in the South Bay, a meeting for urban planning, transit and bike geeks. A crowd of 50 or so listened to key stakeholders and discussed our vision of San Jose’s future, while we sat in the backyard of a Victorian-era shop surrounded by vintage bicycles and parts.
At times it was hard to hear the speakers over the loud rumble of the freeway, punctuated by the roar of airplanes on their landing approach for SJC. But it reinforced to me why we were there to talk about how much better a city could be, and how much better it will be once the projects discussed at the Faber’s are completed.
What do you know about your city’s past? Are there shops, houses or whole neighborhoods with stories to tell? What vision do you see for your city’s future?