TAMPA — Joe Haskins preferred denim dungarees and suspenders to the Lycra favored by many serious bicyclists.
Still, he was the school-trained real deal, whether fixing a walk-in customer’s blown tire or saddling up for a spin on a BMX bike he had refurbished.
The soft-spoken Mr. Haskins felt most comfortable covered in grease while working in the tiny shop that bears his name at North Florida Avenue and Columbus Boulevard — a business with more room for bikes than people that he owned and operated for more than 60 years.
Mr. Haskins never spoke of the many bicycles he gave away to people struggling along a Florida Avenue corridor that has seen decay and gentrification, or of the awards and accolades he received for his generosity and kindness. In the same way, he kept his own struggles to himself, silently working them out as he tinkered with derailleurs and brake cables.
He worked through the death of his first wife, Dorothy Zigmont Haskins, and his son, Kenneth Haskins. And in recent years, behind stacks of bent wheels and parts boxes in the workshop behind the registers, he worked his mind around the kidney disease that would claim his life.
On Saturday, Mr. Haskins died at St. Joseph’s Hospital-North, near the home in Lutz he shared with his second wife Michelle Calogne Haskins. He was 79.
To the Tampa Heights neighborhood and the bicycling community he served throughout his life, Mr. Haskins was an “angel in disguise,” customer Steve Sharon said.
“He sold me my daughter’s first bikes, and if it wasn’t for his layaway option at the time, I wouldn’t be able to buy them as I was financially buried due to my divorce,” Sharon said.
Fixing bikes and troubled lives was Mr. Haskins’ plan from the beginning.
Born to William and Josephine Haskins on Sept. 5, 1941, he grew up in the Riverside Heights neighborhood, a short ride from the storied Tampa bike shop that his uncle established in 1916 — Tampa Cycle. He attended grammar school at Sacred Heart Academy and enrolled in the Mary Help of Christians Trade School, where he developed his skills as a bicycle mechanic.
One of seven children, Mr. Haskins was just 17 when he bought Tampa Cycle from his uncle in 1958 and gave it his own name. The shop has changed locations over the years, surviving Tampa’s changes and growing competition from slick bicycle retailers. The Haskins family says the business will continue.
Mr. Haskins practiced community outreach before it was a campaign slogan and was honored by the city of Tampa and its Police Department for hanging onto his shop in Tampa Heights as other businesses went under or moved away.
For years, he offered a “free air” hose outside the shop, 24-7, to anyone who needed to fill the tires.
“A giant of a man, a kind man,” is how customer Aaron Czyzewski described him. In 1998, Czyzewski moved to a home a block away from the bicycle shop and before long someone had stolen his road bike. Wandering and dreaming among the bikes Haskins had on display lifted his spirits.
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“He saw that I really wasn’t able to afford something new,” Czyzewski said. “But Joe went to his back shed and came back with a used Cannondale bike he had and just gave it to me. Over time, we fixed it up together. We called it the ‘Blue Racer.’”
Shortly after the death of his first wife, Mr. Haskins remarried in September 2012 to a bicycle mechanic he hired to work in his shop nearly 40 years ago. Michelle Calonge Haskins met her future husband in 1978, when she and her 11-month-old son moved down the street from his shop.
A vending machine outside sold sodas for 25 cents, and when the young mother took her son for a treat, the boy fell in love with Haskins and his first wife.
Like many in the neighborhood, Michelle had only her bicycle to get around at the time. Taking care of the bikes his neighbors depended on was a responsibility that weighed heavy on Joe Haskins until his death, Michelle Haskins said.
”If you came in here on your bicycle and Joe knew that was your only means of transportation, he would stop everything he was doing to make sure that that bike was fixed,” Michelle Haskins said.
Memorials for Haskins will include, of course, a bicycle ride — hosted by the nonprofit All Love Bike Rides in Tampa. The two-mile ride starts 3 p.m. Sunday at Al Barnes Park, 2902 N 32nd St. in Jackson Heights, and ends with a wake at Blount & Curry Funeral Home at Garden of Memories, 4207 E. Lake Ave.
Joseph M. “Joe” Haskins
Born: Sept. 5, 1941
Died: March 20, 2021
Survivors: Wife Michelle C. Haskins; children Garrett Haskins, Sharon Nicholson, Carol Jean Wingard, Steven Haskins, Margaret Jo Connor and Brittany Calonge; siblings Bernadette Balkum, Sister Mary Haskins, Loretta (David) Cimino; grandchildren; great-grandchildren; nieces and nephews.
Services: Visitation 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Blount & Curry Funeral Home at Garden of Memories, 4207 E. Lake Ave. Funeral 11 a.m. Monday at the funeral home, led by Father Steve Dumais of Mary Help of Christians Parish. Interment to follow in Myrtle Hill Memorial Park, 4202 E. Lake St.
Staff writer Paul Guzzo contributed to this report.