Quarterbacks or hockey stars staring down retirement at age 32 might open a car dealership or go into real estate, but what does a pro snowboarder do when it's time to diversify? For longtime Capita pro T.J. Schneider, the issue was forced when one of his other major sponsors bailed on a "sizable lump of cash" owed to him and the Canadian had to examine his options.
In a chain of events involving blind faith, entrepreneurial vigor, good friends, marketing savvy and killer timing, Schneider now finds himself the co-owner of The Shop Vancouver, a moto-themed men's clothing store and micro-café in British Columbia's largest city.
Step foot into The Shop and you'll feel a calm as the door closes on the mushrooming smells of Chinatown on one side and the zombie hustle of East Hastings Street, a perennially troubled zone, on the other. There's a small counter on your left and the smell of gourmet coffee wafts through the 700-square-foot space filled with neatly racked shirts, jackets, Red Wing boots and the like.
A Triumph 500 chopper takes center stage on the floor like the work of art that it is. There's a definite style on offer, a curated vibe that is on-point but still welcoming to non-riders. Street-savvy shop rats down viscous coffee as they sketch or work on their Macs. Motorcycle art and photos are stylishly placed on walls here and there, as The Shop doubles as a kind of gallery.
The dude with the bushy beard leaning on the French press is Brett Beadle, Schneider's business partner in this venture. It took them four months to turn this rundown space into something cool and viable, and it's been thriving since its September 2012 opening.
Given Schneider's fame within snowboarding, the serious online following of his Snowboard Realms video project and the fans he's accrued through his prolific art output, we had to ask: Why a clothing store with a motorbike theme?
"It's just the way it's worked out," says Schneider with his trademark nonchalance and humility. "Growing up, I always wanted to do something with snowboarding, and for the last 10 years painting or art have been pretty huge parts of my life. I love these things, but recently I found myself pretty bored by them ...
"Motorcycles came along and kind of revitalized that feeling that snowboarding was losing. I've said it quite a few times that the Realms [series] saved snowboarding for me, that it brought it back to what it originally was: an escape from 'real' life, more about loving something and being free to do whatever you want to do rather than the business that it had become ...
"Building your own bike and riding it is that same feeling: You can do whatever you want -- well, within the law (sorta). The bike-building also filled that need to create something artistically as well: changing it up, painting it, making an idea become something real. ... The motorcycles have become the new snowboarding and art. It's fun; I feel like the kid sleeping with his snowboard again. So why not open a shop where, every day, you surround yourself with the culture and lifestyle that you are thinking about 24/7 anyway?"
The passion is clearly on offer here, and the boys carry mainly independent lines, many of them owned by old shred friends with some cultural crossover. "We've only been open [a short time], so we are just now starting to see what is and isn't moving," says Schneider. "What's great, though, is that we have a personal connection to most everything in the store. Brands like Red Clouds Collective are run by longtime friends Jason Brown [founder of Capita Snowboards] and Seth Neefus. We carry Lifetime, which is owned and operated by Reid and Trevor here in Vancouver; our friendship goes back to the early shred days in Calgary.
"Coal, FMA, MegaDestroy, Eat Dust -- these are all cats into the same things we are. Some are [old] friends and some are newer, but in the end having these connections to the owners makes it less like you are selling something and more like you are sharing it -- sharing our friends' ideas and common love for creating things."
There is no typical customer, because they aren't trying to hit a specific demographic. You'll see a fashion guy wander in and try on some boots that he'll never get dirty, or a greasy mechanic dude thumbing through crisp shirts -- whatever. "We have that 'motorcycle love' and vibe, so we have all types of moto enthusiasts coming in, from the cleanest-cut to the most bearded and tattooed skids you've ever seen. We have students and the occasional senior Chinatown local. I love that there isn't a typical customer," says Schneider.
Unlike your Harley-only or Japan-origin-only scenes out there, The Shop tries to resist the elitism that sometimes comes with the territory. Schneider and Beadle are into vintage bikes and customizing them themselves wherever possible, so this aesthetic is well-represented, but you could roll up on a V-Star, a BMW or a kooked-out "Purple Rain"-mobile and still slap a heartfelt high-five. They chat with folks excited about getting their first bike, or others talking about going to the Isle of Man TT event for the 10th time.
Schneider's personal rides include a 1952/66 Harley Pan Shovel that he took apart and put back together himself in the basement, with the finishing touches happening in his living room. He does whatever work he can solo and calls in the veterans when he's stuck. His other bikes include "The Sex Carpet," a year-long mission for a 1967 Triumph Bonneville where he even did his own paint, and a 1976 Yamaha XT 500.
Dream bikes include a '46 Knuckle and to finally build his own version of a Japanese tall bike: "I remember seeing this purple bike in Japan that was 7 feet tall and 12 feet long -- I was so stoked! I'm working toward building that."
It should be said that this slice of Columbia Street between one of Chinatown's main drags and Hastings isn't for the faint of heart. The boys have been told many times how courageous they are for dropping in on retail in an area that has been rundown and troubled for decades.
Gentrifying anything so close to this wedge of Hastings is no small order, but enough spirited entrepreneurs like Schneider and Beadle can clean up a small block in a short time, as years of NYC development have proven. In fact, another former Capita pro, the legendary Tyler Lepore, opened a track-bike shop a few blocks away some years back.
A handful of other young entrepreneurs have jumped in on retail with both feet and the block is now full of energy. "It's an area where it feels like everyone is under attack," explains Schneider. "It really doesn't seem to matter if you are someone wanting to do something really good or really bad, [whether] you're rich or poor ... we're all under attack by someone. A lot of people have said we, i.e. all the young people on the block, are very brave to try and start a business in this area, but [this] is our neighborhood, this is where we live, and we want to see the area clean up, be a safe zone that welcomes people and can be used by everyone rather than avoided like it has been for years."
The Shop welcomes people of all stripes, even if they've never straddled a "sickle": "We made the café zone to encourage people to come down, hang out, play some crib, do some work, etc., outside of the sterile Starbucks environment," says Schneider. "I grew up in skate shops, so for years that was where we would meet up, where we would hang out, talk s---, whatever. Now that I'm a little too old to be hanging out there -- and your typical coffee shop doesn't much appreciate when 10 bikes roll up and piss off all of their hip customers with their loud exhaust pipes -- we wanted to make a place where like-minded people can sit down and share their stories."
As for snowboarding, Schneider continues to produce his "Realms" series and works with his sponsors shredding as well as developing their up-and-comers: "Bern helmets: Those dudes are so rad, they actually said that they won't let me not ride for them. And I have some product still with Deeluxe ...
"It's pretty rad to know that with some companies, you're more to them than just another rider, that the years you spent building the relationship and helping them make money [isn't wasted] ... That the feeling of 'being a part of a family' really is a family and not just another marketing idea that they conjured up to tell and sell you s---."