The typically pleasant Southern California weather coupled with financial savings and health benefits has pushed communities across the state into a “Bike Friendly” state of mind, and San Pedro, though somewhat resistant at first, is on board.
As the bike community grows in San Pedro, and the city continues to add bike lanes and racks, there is one long-time staple that has believed in the benefits of biking for 40 years.
The Bike Palace, located at 16th and Pacific Avenue, opened 40 years ago by San Pedro native, Kuzma “Matty” Domancich, is not just a staple in San Pedro, it is a part of the community’s history.
Domancich, who owned a Shell service station prior to opening the bike shop, had no intention of opening such a business. He said it all started when he became upset when Shell made the decision to become self-service.
“It wasn’t right,” he says. “They wanted me to sit in a chair and wait for people to come in and pay for gas – and then stay sitting while they went out to pump their gas.”
He owned the station for over 25 years, and through the entire time he spent his days repairing cars, cleaning windshields, checking tire pressure, oil, water and pumping gas for all his customers.
“As they were giving me my new orders, I saw a gentleman riding a bicycle and not having personally ridden or owned a bicycle before, I told the Shell people I would be out in 30 days and that I was opening a bicycle shop,” remembers Domancich.
It didn’t take long for Domancich to get his new venture off the ground – he simply walked across the street from his gas service station and asked to rent a small room off of the then San Pedro Motors, they agreed, and his journey began.
In 1977, the owners of San Pedro Motors informed Domancich that they were retiring and wanted to sell the real estate. Domancich, who didn’t have the money to buy it outright, approached longtime friend Tony Jabuka, who was a well-respected general contractor around town, and the pair partnered and purchased the property.
Domancich’s extensive background as a mechanic helped grow the business immediately, and he loved every minute of it, he says.
In 1974, Domancich hired his godson, the son and namesake of his business partner, Tony Jabuka.
“I gave Tony a job helping out around the bike shop throughout the summers,” says Domancich. “He worked with then head mechanic, Dave Summers, and had an immediate knack for working with bicycles.”
Tony Jabuka would continue working for Domancich until 1979, when he decided to attend Oregon State University, but he came back each Christmas to work.
“I have always enjoyed being in the shop,” explains Jabuka. “I have so many memories from way back when I first started, it was always just a good fit and something kept pulling me back.”
In March of 1984, Jabuka came to an agreement with his father and Domancich, that he would become a partner in The Bike Palace.
“My mechanical skills and Matty’s business sense and salesmanship made us a great team,” says Jabuka. “I remember we used to listen to spring training baseball games on the radio while working on bikes, there has always been a great bond.”
Jabuka says that as the business grew, his enthusiasm for it grew as well. “I knew I was doing something I truly loved.”
In 1987, Domancich decided it was time to retire, and Jabuka knew he wanted to keep the business and tradition of The Bike Palace alive and well.
“It was now all up to me, to continue to give our customers the care Matty had nourished into the business over the past 14 years,” he says.
Now, 26 years later, much has changed, but so much is still the same at The Bike Palace.
“We carry a much more extensive selection of bikes and accessories than we ever did,” explains Jabuka. “We try to carry most every type of bicycle, for most any type of rider. Tricycles for infants and adults, road racing and touring bikes, hybrid, mountain bikes, BMX, freestyle and fixies. And of course, beach cruisers in every flavor of the rainbow.”
Jabuka says that through the years it has always been about great customer service and promoting the “love of riding.”
“We, ourselves, try to ride as often as possible,” he says. “In San Pedro, we have all these great, cool spots and things to stop and look at – it is a beautiful community, and one that is now becoming more and more bicycle friendly.”
Jabuka says business has gotten “tougher and tougher” through the years, with new competition from places like Target, and of course, the Internet. “Christmas used to be one of our busiest times, especially with the kids’ market, but that has changed dramatically because of big box stores coming to town. It is definitely a challenge, but I have a great crew, who are now like family after working with me for decades. We are the hub for the cycling community in San Pedro and the Palos Verdes Peninsula. We’re also the major sponsor of the Peninsula Cycle Club, a group of over 270 enthusiastic cyclists.”
Jabuka says he can’t believe that it has been 40 years since The Bike Palace first opened, saying “time flies when you are having fun.”
“It is a really special feeling, I was here almost from the beginning with Matty,” he says. “To think about it, about how he handed it off to me and let me take off running with it, it is emotional. The store has grown and changed, but the feel is still the same and the memories are etched in the walls.”
Jabuka, along with Domancich, hope the community of San Pedro continues to embrace cycling as a great alternative mode of transportation. Though both agreed, that unlike a lot of other coastal communities, San Pedro has some work to do.
Jabuka says that in places like Hermosa and Long Beach, there are routes for bicyclists to be able to travel around California. He said connecting San Pedro and Long Beach through a bike route will really open up doors for avid riders to be able to get out and ride.
“All we can hope is that through bike lanes and routes more and more riders will take to the streets and explore the great city and region they live in,” he says. “I support the efforts to becoming more bike friendly, and I think the community will too, when they get used to it.”
Domancich and Jabuka said they are very thankful for the support of San Pedro residents and all their customers from around the area.
“We certainly want to thank all of our customers through our 40 year history,” says Jabuka. “We are all a family, and it is very special to us. We have had some really great times here and the memories are wonderful.”
Jabuka continues, “Over the years our passion could not have been accomplished without the fine work of many employees, including T.J. Tapia, Jose Carlos, Francisco Figueroa, John Aunedi, Bob Applegate, Sergio Diaz, Sze Chaung, Eric Luk, Steve Collister, Ryan Hamilton, Adam Olson, Kirk Shandrew, Gary Weiss, Steve Turner, Ron Morgan, Raymond Medak, Dave Nelson, Duane Hamilton, Tony Accetta, Paul Anvar, Hector Lopez, David Pratt, Israel Sanchez, Jose Aguilar, Jack Druskovich, Mario Rivera, Frank Tyfalt, Eugene Hernandez, Chris Correa, John Menzies, Greg Gobel, Carmelo Figueroa, Cora Webber, Autumn Baldwin, Candy Rapoza and Kay Scarpelli.”
Domancich adds that he is proud of Jabuka, and very pleased to see the strides that not only the business but also the community of San Pedro are making to become a bike friendly destination.
“I am so happy with everything that goes well in San Pedro, especially when we do it right,” Domancich says. “My godson Tony and his crew are wonderful with the customers, they do such a great job – I stop in the shop every week, the memories are great and being able to celebrate 40 years is a great accomplishment.” spt
The Bike Palace is located at 1600 S. Pacific Ave. For more info, call 310-832-1966 or visit www.thebikepalace.com.