By Guy O’Connell
Opening a shop is one of the biggest dreams in small business. To open in Fitzrovia, with its mix of office workers and locals, takes a special sort of knowledge, and bravery too.
So here’s the story behind one new door — Central Bikes — on Tottenham Street. It’s opened to sell scooters and clothing. It’s all the brainchild of Dan Rose, who first came to Fitzrovia with a spanner in his hand in 2004 aged just 22. “I was servicing bikes on the go in the West End, from the back of a van. People think of London as very impersonal, but in this area there’s a real community,” he said.
Over the years, he’s come to know hundreds of locals, office workers, residents, and now he’s opened up he’s been bowled over by the response.
“As soon as I set up, people came in and said “It’s you! The bike guy, congratulations! One man who lives nearby popped in and gave me a whole load of pens and paper pads to get me going. People have been really supportive.”
One of those who’s offered a big welcome is George, of George’s Shoe Repairs nearby. George and his dad Sergio have worked in this area for years. George was 18 when he first sat down to work here 23 years ago.
“It’s great to see another shop open up that’s not part of a big chain. It’s better for all of us,” he said. “If you can make it through your first year of business, paying the bills, you’re going to be fine. The key is to offer a good service that people need, at reasonable prices. This is a good community and people are loyal and friendly.”
Dan the bike man has a plan. He thinks motorbike shops can be intimidating places, where people sit around talking about grubby sprockets. “We want to welcome first-time riders, and established bikers, as a place where we sell stylish stuff that’s also safe.”
“The sun comes out, and people want to look cool, but they take risks with safety. We’re stocking a range of equipment that looks good but has all the right protection too.”
But Dan has already faced one giant hurdle. His bank. “I needed a bond for the manufacturer, but my bank spelt the Italian name, Piaggio, wrongly. It needed to be correct for legal reasons, and it took them eight weeks to sort it out, basically to spell it correctly. In that time, I lost all those spring scooter sales.”
Dan says he’s back on track, and that Italian image of the Vespa nipping around town is perfect for his business. Unlike his bank, the fashion-conscious customer darting between meetings in the West End will be familiar with the name Piaggio.
“After working for other big dealers, to open my own place is a dream job. Bikes are my passion.”
So there you have it. Over the years, the area around Tottenham Street has catered to the Communist Club, to timber merchants, mechanics, doctors, restaurants, cobblers, the rag trade, barbers, and now, Central Bikes has opened its doors.
There’s only one way to make things better for Dan this year. He’s going to marry his fiancee Nicole. Luckily, he doesn’t need to rely on his bank to spell her name in time for the big day.
Central Bikes, 37 Tottenham Street, W1T 4RU http://www.centralbikes.co.uk/