When Chehalis resident Dave Smith, 61, was a kid, riding a bicycle felt a lot like freedom.
Now he spends his retirement working at the Hub City Bike Shop in downtown Centralia to help extend that freedom to the entire community.
Hub City Bike Shop, part of Bethel Church’s Hub City Missions, provides bicycle repairs on a suggested donation basis to the community at large and anyone who happens to be riding through Centralia in need of a pitstop.
The shop has been located in the old Pearl Street Pool building in the 500 block of North Pearl Street for almost six years, but the mission started well before that.
“The total history would go back to when Bethel Church started operating Hub City Missions,” Smith told The Chronicle Friday. “As far as what we started doing, the mission would provide food and services to people in the community in need, and so we were helping at the mission. We saw the need. And we also saw people coming in on hobbled-together bicycles. They were patched together and were in disrepair.”
Smith — who began bicycle repair by fixing his bike as a kid when his dad grew too tired of working on Smith’s often-broken bikes — stepped right in to help the clients of the mission have a mode of transportation to do things such as go to job interviews and get back on their feet.
“I have a bicycle background, and I was like, ‘Hey, we can help these people.’ In the alleyway (by the church), we started out in the back of my pickup truck — myself, and some others. Our pastors supported it. They said, ‘Hey if you can do this, go with it.’ So we set up canopies and worked in the alley when people showed up to get food.”
But the alleyway was in a breezeway, and since Hub City Missions fed people year-round, it wasn’t uncommon for winter storms to disrupt the work being done, Smith said.
“The wind would kick up and blow the canopy out there in the middle of the street. It was wild,” he said.
After muddling through winter weather in the alleyway, Bethel Church brokered a deal with the City of Centralia to begin using the pool building as a home base of operations.
“It’s kind of a sweetheart deal,” Smith said.
The bike shop is full of donated bikes that Smith and the other volunteers use parts from to fix the community’s bikes.
In the past, the volunteers who helped Smith with his repairs were often retired people, but now a new generation of tinkerers has joined the fold.
“Right now, we have a couple of young kids in here,” he said. “So we’ve got a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old, which is great. I mean, they have enthusiasm for it. They’re glad to be here. I can’t tell you how grateful I am, because kids — their time is kind of important to them, and they are showing up here on Saturdays. And they get the concept of what we’re trying to do for the community, what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Being volunteers, Smith and the others don’t get paid for the work, and Smith told The Chronicle that he labors on the bikes as a kind of sacrifice for his Christian faith, that he feels called by God to help people gain essential mobility.
Sometimes the work is intensive, with multiple parts needed, while other times, all someone needs is a fixed flat or a lube job.
Since the work is done on a suggested-donation basis — where Smith will tell people what the labor and parts will cost after vetting whether they can pay at all — many folks will pay far and above what is asked of them.
“Getting back to the religious aspect of it — that’s a concept in the church, the tithing aspect,” Smith said. “The Bible tells us that’s what we’re supposed to do. Not everybody has that. They might not have that church background, and yet they understand about helping people. And they want to help their community.”
Since everything is donation-based, all the proceeds generated by the shop after overhead expenses go right back into Hub City Missions to provide food for people in need.
Smith knows from his experience of the wind whipping through his hair as he rode through the streets of his childhood town on the San Francisco Bay that bikes can mean a lot more than simply getting from point A to point B.
“A bike you can ride (and) go out and have fun on. I just love that,” Smith said. “I want that for everybody. Anybody that wants a bike, let’s figure out a way. Cheap as possible. We know how to pinch a penny and if people want to work with us, we’ll get you rolling, and we’ll keep you rolling.”
Over the years, Hub City Bike shop has had a slew of success stories.
One woman, who has considerable trouble walking due to a disability, often uses her three-wheeled recumbent bike to get places. She works with kids who also have disabilities, and she couldn’t get to work one day due to some broken cables and a gear shifter on her bike.
Ordinarily, Smith doesn’t go out and pick up people’s bikes for repair, but duty called in this instance.
“This was a special case, right? So we brought it in, fixed it (and) got it back to her,” Smith told The Chronicle. “Where else could she go? We picked it up and delivered it.”
Another story involves a man who’d been on a bike trip from Seattle to Los Angeles whose tires had blown out near Centralia.
“He got a flat, and he had a bike that uses sealant instead of an innertube,” Smith said. “So it was a flat and it was catastrophic. The sealant went all out and he was stuck. He didn’t know how to fix it. So I got the call. … He wasn’t quite prepared. He was camping the whole way. So we met him, figured out what he needed and sent him on his way.”
Smith said he’s helped countless others find their way as they balanced on two wheels.
“Not to be able to help people — life’s too short,” he said. “God has put me in this place to be able to retire. My needs are met. ... So why not? I love this community. I think it’s a great place. I think the quality of life here is good. The crime rate, relatively speaking, is low. They’re dealing with problems. They’re trying to fix the problems, so why not be part of the solution?”
The shop is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but anytime the door is open, Smith will be in there working away the hours.
Folks can reach out to the shop by calling 360-523-3992.