CLEARWATER — Henry Johnson was given a new pair of jeans for Christmas, but the seat on his bicycle was so tattered that he didn't want to risk ruining them.
So Friday, Johnson, a landscaper, carefully pedaled his only mode of transportation to Hands On Bicycle located in the city's East Gateway area. There, he got a new seat and his bike was given a quick safety inspection at no charge, courtesy of the shop's owner, Robert Ferrin.
"He's a real good dude," Johnson, 31, said. "He likes to help people. Last time, I had a hard time with my gear switch. He fixed that for me and I didn't have no money."
Johnson had money this time, but Ferrin refused to take it.
Open two months, Hands On Bicycle isn't your typical bike shop. Ferrin said he's trying to provide a community service with his business.
"People in this community depend on their bicycles," said Ferrin, 59. "This shop is for the hard-working, low-income people who need transportation. I just want to make sure that they have safe transportation. And I just love bikes. I'm not trying to get rich."
Ferrin always loved bikes. He would gather up parts and weld them together and make his own.
But his career took him out to sea. A merchant marine, he was a yacht captain in Miami for 30 years before retiring three years ago.
"The money was great," he said, "but I was getting a little too old and I didn't want to ruin my record" as captain with no incidents.
Ferrin left the job that paid him more than $100,000 annually and took him all over the world to Clearwater, where his girlfriend had family.
Ferrin went to the United Bicycles Institute in Oregon, graduating in 2005.
Also an avid cyclist, Ferrin earned several other bicycle mechanic certifications. He worked at a few bicycle shops in the Tampa Bay area and gained more knowledge on bicycle repair and shop management.
Two months ago, he opened Hands On Bicycle at 1453 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. The shop does not have a massive inventory of bikes, though he can order one if needed.
There are plenty of tires, tubes, brakes and chains on the walls of the 800-square-feet building.
And in a different twist from most shops, there are several bike stands equipped with tools that customers can use to repair their own bicycles. Customers who fix their own bikes are only charged for the parts, he said.
"I can fix it myself if I want to, but I appreciate someone who takes an interest in learning how to fix their own bike," Ferrin said.
Ferrin is on call 24 hours and if someone needs to fix a flat in order to get to work the next day, he'll open the shop at any hour. If someone doesn't have money, the bike is fixed for free.
"We don't have 200 shiny bikes, so the inventory cost is pretty low," Ferrin said. "We have the basic three dozen items you need to repair a bike."
An entrance to the city's downtown, the East Gateway area is bordered by Drew Street on the north, Highland Avenue on the east, Missouri Avenue on the west and Court Street on the south.
Of the 3,000 people in East Gateway, 38 percent are Hispanic. For a large number of residents, bicycles are their only form of transportation.
Josh Chambers, 25, has worked at Hands On Bicycle since it opened. A bike mechanic for 10 years, he too said it is about the community.
"Instead of us holding the knowledge, we would rather teach people and have them learn," he said. "We are a small shop and we are a resource for this community."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.