Photo by Rob Thorn
By Meg O’Neil
It’s Monday morning inside Rob Purdy’s workshop at Newport Bicycle on Dr. Marcus Wheatland Boulevard and a steady stream of country music is playing on the radio.
Purdy and his son, also named Rob, are hard at work on repairing a French-made bicycle from the early 1980s.
The repair is time consuming, as the bike model is no longer produced and its parts are hard to come by. But for the Purdy’s, that’s par for the course. They'll get it done, and they'll have a happy customer. “Our customer is attached to this bike. She bought it in college and wants it restored. My dad actually sold this kind of bike at the shop in the 70s and 80s,” Purdy says.
The “shop” Purdy is referring to is B & J’s Cycle, the business that his father, Bob Purdy, owned and operated from 1969-1985 in Newport. Originally located where Billy Goode’s sits today, B & J’s Cycle eventually moved to a 60-foot stretch on Broadway that housed both the bicycle shop and Newport Suzuki, specializing in motorcycle repairs.
When Purdy’s father sought to sell in the business in 1985, he handed the reins to Mike Rezendes, who also owned Newport Bicycle in Washington Square. Rezendes eventually shed the name of B & J’s Cycle and consolidated the two businesses into Newport Bicycle and moved into a small storefront on Caleb Earl Street.
In February of last year, Rezendes approached the younger Purdy, asking him if he’d like to take over the shop that his father had started over 40 years ago.
Without hesitation, Purdy’s wife, Christina Erwin, signed the papers, putting the business back in to the Purdy family.
Moving the shop from Caleb Earl Street back to a section of the building that his father owned on Broadway, Newport Bicycle officially re-opened in April of 2011.
“I just have a passion for this place. I’ve spent thousands of hours here growing up. It’s been a crazy year, but it’s been phenomenal,” he said. “My son works here with me, and my father still comes in all the time to help.”
As a generational, small business, many of the patrons who shop at Newport Bicycle today were customers decades ago as children.
And with nearly 40 years of memories tied into the business, it's easy to see why Purdy feels such a connection to this place.
Looking around the shop, Purdy says his collection of mementos provide a glimpse into a bygone era. There's a B & J’s Cycle ad from 1974 can be seen in a copy of the yellow pages from that year; and receipts that date back even further. At one point, Purdy proudly displays a copy of Newport This Week from 1982 that featured an article about his father’s passion for bicycles.
“It’s just awesome that after all these years, we’ve brought back the family element to this place,” he says.
Today, the shop is designed for every level of bicycle enthusiasts. With two walls stocked with accessories, the remaining walls and floor space house every type of bike imaginable – cruisers, road bikes, mountain bikes, and even unicycles. Ranging from $300 - $10,000, Purdy says he has every bike for every type of rider – from novice to professional.
Outside the shop, the Purdy’s have lined the driveway with rental bikes for customers to cruise the island. Newport Bicycle also provides guided tours, with 50 percent of all proceeds going to the MET School.
According to Purdy, the tours, while geared toward the tourist crowd, allow riders to see Aquidneck Island from a different viewpoint. “It’s a better way to get around,” he says. “It’s better for the environment, it’s better for the island, and it’s better for yourself … this is a great place to ride.”
The practice of riding as well as working is something that Purdy hopes to instill to his three children.
At 19, his oldest son Robby works regularly at the shop while he attends Bristol Community College. “He’s smart – you’ve got to go to college in this day in age. He loves the shop, and if he wants to come back here and do this after he graduates, then that’d be great.”
Now that spring has arrived and summer is around the corner, Purdy says he’s looking forward to having his two other children working with him in the shop with him and Robby, keeping the generation of Newport Bicycle pedaling on into the future.
To celebrate their one year anniversary, the shop is holding a weekend-long celebration. On Friday, April 27 at noon, there will be a special ribbon-cutting ceremony, marking the one year anniversary. The next day, Saturday, April 28 starts off with historical bike tours at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., a group ride around Ocean Drive at 4 p.m., and a cookout at 5 p.m.
The entire weekend will be filled with opportunities for customers to drop by the store and take their chance at winning a variety of free prizes, discounts, samples, and more.