Two-wheeled Tradition Rolls On -Fall 2019
by: Brian Bushard
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
Jasper Young was 12 years old when he first put on a Young’s Bicycle Shop shirt and hat, and started working for his father. Seventeen years later, he’s standing behind the front counter at the bike shop on Broad Street, renting out bikes to island visitors.
“Iwouldn’t work anywhere else on Nantucket,” he said. But that wasn’t always his philosophy. A bachelor’s degree in early education from Bucknell University, in Pennsylvania, brought him to school systems in Sacramento, Calif. and Portland, Ore., where he worked for three years. But there was something missing. He decided he wanted to join his dad at the shop.
“I see my dad working here and enjoying it,” he said. “But a lot of what you’re doing is mentoring younger kids working at the shop, and interacting with customers. It’s a lot like education.”
His father, Harvey Young, was also 12 when he started working at the family bike shop. It was 1969. The shop got its start 38 years earlier at his grandfather Harvey A. Young’s house on India Street. Harvey’s family, as well as islanders who knew and associated the Young name with cycling, had been asking him when he would start working at the shop ever since he was in elementary school.
Then, in his early 20s, he left the island. He only came back in 1993, after 20 years of what he called his “Jack London and John Steinbeck Pacific Northwest school-of-hardknocks,” and took on the role of manager of the shop.
One friend asked him if he loved bikes. “I said, ‘well, yeah, I like bikes, but what I really love is doing hospitality on Nantucket with bikes’.”
His daughter, Emma, 26, never worked at the shop growing up. She only started after she went off to study at the University of Vermont.
“I don’t really bike a lot, and I don’t know anything about bikes,” Emma said. “It’s always interesting because off-island, if you say you work at a bike shop, people think you’re a mechanic, or you’re selling bikes, and those are two things I don’t really know about. But Young’s isn’t focused on the bicycle as much as it is about providing a service to the tourism here.”
Emma has a desk upstairs, where she works on the business side of the operation. She had several summer jobs on-island before joining the family business. Growing up, the idea of moving off-island was more alluring than working with her family.
Her father could relate to the urge to leave. He and Emma were not the only Youngs to head for the horizon. His work was as a crab fisherman and landscaper on the West Coast. His sister Stephanie moved to Oregon when Harvey was living there, got married and decided to stay.
“When you’re 8 years old, and people keep on asking when you’re going to work here, you might just want to work somewhere else,” Harvey said.
But there’s something about working in a family business that drew both father and daughter, in their own time, back to the shop on Broad Street.
“Now, every time I talk to people in my family – just because so much time has passed since the shop opened, and so many things have changed on the island – it’s cool to be a part of that tradition. It’s cool to be a part of something that’s been around for so long,” Emma said.
“When I started working here, I liked it a lot, but I didn’t love living on Nantucket, and that’s what I thought would take me away. When I came back, I said, ‘well I’m on Nantucket, so I might as well work at the bike shop’.”
Harvey’s father Roger ran the shop for 24 years, before Harvey’s brothers Robert and Stephen took over in 1980. Harvey took over in 1993. Harvey’s grandfather, Harvey A. Young, was the original boss, moving the shop from his house on India Street to the corner of Broad and South Water streets before purchasing the current location a few doors down in 1938 with his wife Adelaide, for $25,000.
Bicycles were always a subject of conversation at the house, starting from the mid-century Schwinn bicycles, and later to the faster European 10-speed bikes that came to Nantucket in the 1970s, and then the all-terrain mountain bikes that became popular in the 1990s.
At the shop, there was a business model that passed down from generation to generation, regardless of the bikes customers were using. It’s a philosophy that focuses more on customer service and customer experience than on fixing or renting bikes, Harvey said.
“My father used to talk about how people would come to Nantucket, and how we want them to have a good experience,” Harvey said. “We often get tourists first, when they come off the boat and get their bikes, and then they drop their bikes off and leave, so we also get them last. A big goal of mine is not to mess that up.
“We have generations of customers with generations’ worth of expectations,” he added. “You come here, go to Something Natural (sandwich shop), go to the beach, and then you go home and you have all year to think about how magical that was. I would rather have a customer who doesn’t know about that, and we can just give them that special thing, rather than a customer coming in with generations’ worth of those expectations.”
Jasper got his start in the service department at the back of the shop, learning how to repair rusty and run-down bikes. Now, he stands behind the front desk, offering customer service for people entering the shop, looking for directions and information on bike rentals.
But one afternoon last month, he was standing outside the shop with his sister and father, next to a bike wheel with a sign that reads “Young’s Rentals.” It’s the sign that once read, “Ride a Bicycle,” in the 1940s and 1950s, when the shop was known as Harvey A. Young’s Bicycle Shop.
“I was traveling after college, working for AmeriCorps in Sacramento, and Habitat for Humanity in Portland (Oregon), and I decided I would rather live in a small community next to the ocean with family,” Jasper said. “I could see myself in Northern California, but I wanted to be here.” ///
Brian Bushard is a staff writer at The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.