ShopTalk PROFILE: Bill’s Wheels
Bill’s Wheels is truly a legendary skate shop. There is such a vast amount of skate product, you could spend hours and still not see everything. Having known Bill for more than three decades, I took the opportunity to find out what made Bill’s Wheels a truly legendary shop.
Bill first started skating in 7th grade. In high school he started to play tennis. “I lived it,” he says. “I was stringing rackets at the local sport shop, Freedom Sportsman, next to Weird Harold’s Sandwich Factory and Dave Hart Datsun.” This is where it all started for Bill. “The sport shop started selling skate stuff, and I started to help the kids between stringing rackets.”
A few years later, the sport shop was going out of business and Bill was about 18 years old. He bought the $300 worth of skate inventory. “I found a location,” he says, “and started my shop on the other side of Watsonville in an old veterinary building next to Barsi’s Liquor. The rent was $125 a month!”
Bills first order was with NHS: “I bought $800 worth of stuff and it was on!” he says. Most of the clientele were people he skated with – local kids in the neighborhood, after-school dwellers and those who heard by word of mouth. All came in to see the new shop everyone was talking about. Skating the Buena Vista pool, Farmland ramp and Ham’s bowl and practicing high jump while the “W Boys” practiced their freestyle skating were on the agenda, as well as jamming to tunes from Led Zeppelin, Rick Derringer and Ted Nugent, just to name a few.
“My parents helped things move forward,” Bill says. “My dad assisted me with the signs, and my mom came up with some clothes racks. My accountant asked me ‘Why are you doing this? You’re not making any money.’ I said ‘I just do it cuz I love it,’ and I stuck with it and it turned into a business.”
After being at the veterinary building for a year, Bill relocated down the road between Mehl’s Colonial Chapel and Dairy Queen in a shop called California Sports, which only lasted about a year. Then he relocated back over toward Freedom Sportsman. “I was open from 2 to 6 p.m. right when the kids got out of school,” Bill says. “I was there for a year when I moved again down the road to the Crestview shopping center.” The shop grew, and Bill started having demos in the parking lot next to the shop and at schools around the area with a team he recruited along the way.
Tough times hit during the mid-’80s. Skating went crazy and got huge toward the end of the ’80s, and then in the early ’90s it phased out again. “But now it’s here to stay,” Bill says. “There are parks in every city, and you don’t have to pay to skate anymore.”
A lot of people Bill skated with and who were customers back in the day are now bringing their kids in to the shop. “They are getting their first skateboard, wearing the cool shoes and clothes and living the skater’s lifestyle,” Bill says.
If you’re ever in Santa Cruz or Salinas, come in and check out the shop. Meet Bill and the crew, look at the old vintage skateboards and photos on the wall and learn about our roots. Long live Bill’s Wheels!