Faber’s Cyclery: A Bike Shop Survives in San Jose

13 Sep

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?

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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure, Local History


8 responses to “Faber’s Cyclery: A Bike Shop Survives in San Jose

  1. Andrew Boone

    September 13, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Bicycles and bicycling have now survived for over 100 years, and will always survive, the violent destructive onslaught of the automobile. The People are building a new future, one based on sustainable healthy human power, not on fossil fuels and death. Faber’s is one of many heroes in The Bicycle Movement. Ban SUVs first!

    • ladyfleur

      September 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

      I’m not a fan of SUVs either, whether I’m on foot, on my bike or in my car. They’re just too big for the typical riding around town most people do in them or even a road trip for the average family. And the bigger size makes collisions that much more deadly for the other people. I’m hoping the riding gas prices will bring SUV sizes back down to a reasonable scale.

  2. Andrew Boone

    September 13, 2012 at 1:05 am

    Just had to get that out of my system. You know how it is.

    • ladyfleur

      September 13, 2012 at 11:13 am

      Go, Andrew, go! Let it all out.

  3. humofthecity

    September 13, 2012 at 9:47 am

    That shop looks amazing! 100 years! I am so impressed.

    • ladyfleur

      September 13, 2012 at 11:19 am

      We will have to see how long they hang on. The building is condemned and there’s no money in sight to renovate it.

  4. Dallas Adams

    October 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    SAVE FABER’S! Indeed! It seems that with the right business model that their would be investor’s to not only save the building but expand

  5. pep

    April 27, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Sadly, the building caught fire last week. From the news accounts, it had been vacant for some time. It appears that there has been a campaign underway to save it. Read more at


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