A teacher called Eileen's Place Bicycles and asked for a favor. A little boy, Ra' Shawn Bennett, needed a bike. He and three other youngsters had been hit by a car a few weeks earlier. They were hurt but survived. Ra' Shawn's right leg was broken in three places. But the thing he was really upset about was his bike. The car crumpled it.
Could he get a new one?
Yes, of course, said owner Hermann Freiberg, without hesitation, as he has for decades. The 71-year-old man has been a quiet, unassuming fixture for the community for more than 30 years. His shop had a few locations in Hudson before settling in at 9635 State Road 52 two decades ago.
The place is magical, stuffed with bicycles and wheels and parts and odds and ends, paintings, stained glass, posters, photos of dearly departed and beloved cats, from floor to ceiling, with skylights filtering in a green glow.
There are bicycles from the 1930s and new bicycles that look like old ones. Fancy racing bikes. Children's bikes. Bikes with baskets and streamers and huge handlebars and tandem seats. Bikes for leisurely picnics. Bikes with flames.
Freiberg got serious about bicycling after a car crash in 1978. He was born in Poland and his family moved to California when he was a teenager. He worked for a moving van company for years and ended up in Pasco County. After the crash, he couldn't drive anymore so he opened up a secondhand goods shop. The bicycles were his best sellers.
"The bikes took over," said Freiberg, who credits cycling, working hard and eating fruits and vegetables — celery especially, lots of it, and nuts and dried fruit — with his good health. He is tall, sinewy and strong, seeming years younger than his age.
The store is named after his second wife, Eileen, who died of cancer after 34 years of marriage. He married again, his third wife, after Eileen's death, and divorced. He is single now and lives on 5 acres in Hudson with many rescued cats and dogs. At the store, there are usually a few cats slinking around the shadows, plus his dog, Sunoco, whom he found abandoned two years ago at a Sunoco gas station.
"Are you retiring?" a customer, Trina Book, asked him the other day at the store.
"No," Freiberg said. "Those days are over with." He said his ex-wife, whom he's still friends with, had a heart attack and he needs to keep working to help take care of her bills.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Book said. "But I'm glad because there is nobody I want to deal with but you."
Though he can't retire, Freiberg is moving to a smaller building across the street in January. Freiberg, who turns 72 on Sept. 16, hopes to whittle his hours to three days a week, but he's not sure if he can. He wants to have a garden and grow tomatoes and spend time with his pets. His store opens at 9 a.m., but he's usually there several hours earlier, working on repair jobs for customers.
"He'll help anybody," said Book, who has known Freiberg for nearly 20 years. She said he used to have a bicycling club and, once a month, treated the members to a steak dinner. Freiberg currently keeps bread, doughnuts and pastries inside his store to give to anyone who is hungry. He doesn't know how many bicycles he has given away during his lifetime. Hundreds, maybe.
"What goes around comes around," he said. He doesn't like to talk about his good deeds. At his shop on Tuesday, someone called asking for him to donate a bike. He told the person to pick it up Sept. 5. He hung up the phone without even asking why the person needed it.
"You've got to help people," he said.
Tuesday afternoon was also when Ra' Shawn got his bike. The 10-year-old was in the hospital for three days after he and three other youngsters were hit by an SUV driven by Misael Ochoa-Garcia, 26. It happened on Rohrman Road in a poor neighborhood of Port Richey, where Ra' Shawn lives. The boys were in a yard watching some men beat up Ochoa-Garcia, who managed to get inside his vehicle and speed away. He lost control, authorities said, and plowed into the group. The boys, ages 10 to 18, are all out of the hospital and recovering. Ochoa-Garcia faces multiple charges and is being held without bail in the Pasco County Jail.
Ra' Shawn has a neon cast on his entire leg. His fourth-grade classmates at Gulf Highlands Elementary School signed it. He still has nightmares about what happened to him and gets fatigued easily, having to hobble with a walker. When his bike was delivered, he struggled to stay awake to see it. But his mom knows he is excited. He knows he'll be able to ride again once he heals. The bike gives him hope.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.