South Shore Bikes celebrating 25 years at Lake Tahoe
Hec Hernandez smiled when he thought about why he opened South Shore Bikes a quarter of a century ago.
“Greed,” he says.
But he wasn’t greedy for money. Hardly any business owner who closes shop for the winter in Lake Tahoe is going to get rich.
No, he was greedy because he loved mountain biking and wanted to ride the newest, most tricked-out machines on the market, and he couldn’t afford them.
Now, celebrating his 25th year in business in South Lake Tahoe, Hernandez can ride anything he wants. He’s employed all three of his sons at some point and the store remains a family affair with his youngest son still involved with the business.
“It’s in the family,” said Kyle Hernandez, 32, who is in his third year at the full service shop. “I grew up around all this and I don’t know why I never really got into it before. I love biking and I’m working with my dad, how can I complain? It’s great, he makes it fun atmosphere and I get to ride the bikes.”
From Texas to surfing to Tahoe
Hernandez, 62, was born in San Antonio, Texas and a few years after, his family moved to the San Fernando Valley. After growing up, he got married and started raising his family in Huntington Beach, enjoying the surfing lifestyle in the seaside city in Orange County.
But after 21 years, and three growing kids, the cost of living was going through the roof. He was a ski representative for Dynastar, a job “he was totally into,” but he needed to make a change.
“I enjoyed being there, but it got very expensive,” Hernandez said. “I told the family we’re taking a trip.”
Hernandez hauled his family to South Lake Tahoe in 1990. He immediately got a job working for Heavenly Sports, folding T-shirts in the summer and selling skis and fitting boots in the winter.
“I actually stepped back probably eight years of my life moving here, but the mountain biking, the lake, hiking and everything else, I had to make a choice and I feel I made a good one,” Hernandez said.
He left the T-shirts and boot fitting after a year to work in a Tahoe bike shop that is no longer open. After a couple of years he realized that is what he wanted to do and opened South Shore Bikes in 1993 on Ski Run Boulevard. He opened another shop near the Y before settling on one location off Emerald Bay Road at the Y.
“The Y is home, this is where all the locals live,” Hernandez said. “It’s a little more reasonable in price, but rents and leases are all crazy. It’s amazing how some of these stores stay in business. We’re doing well where we are.”
Hernandez didn’t have customers charging through the doors when he first opened them in ‘93. He had to work hard to promote “the worst bike line in town.” He didn’t have the most popular equipment, but made it work to the point he now has top of the line bikes and anything anybody wants or needs.
“I sat there for many, many hours and wondered if I made a mistake,” Hernandez said. “But that happens when you start a business.”
Hernandez has dabbled in snow sports during the winter. His oldest son, Chris, 42, a former member of the U.S. ski team, spearheaded South Shore Snow in the offseason about five years ago when the bike store shuts down shortly after Christmas, but the reward wasn’t worth the time and effort.
“I worked very hard for a $12 ski wax compared to tuning a bike,” Hernandez said. “Sometimes scraping those skis, I thought, ‘this is ridiculous, what are we doing?’”
So he’s settled on his business opening around April 1 every year, unless it’s a low snow season and he’ll open earlier. He enjoys the slopes and a three-month vacation in the winter. Chris has since moved on but returns to the store when he can and “jumps behind the register to help out.”
All three of his kids graduated from South Tahoe High School.
Moving forward, he sees the bike business changing with addition of Lime bikes and scooters on the South Shore and the emergence of electric bikes.
He likes the concept, but doesn’t think Lime should be in a small town like South Lake Tahoe and should stay in the larger cities. And the scooters he says should definitely not be in Tahoe.
“It’s not affecting my business too much, maybe 5 percent of the rentals,” Hernandez said. “We have such a small window, we have three months to do as much business as we can. The people that depend on those rentals, it is definitely affecting them. I think it belongs in San Francisco where it is and the bigger cities. And the scooters, up here, I think they’re waiting for a major accident to happen before anybody does anything about it. We see kids riding the scooters and I know the parents are saying, ‘Hey I don’t have to drive you, go grab a lime scooter’ and I totally, totally get that, but still, it’s not safe.”
The emergence of electric bikes wasn’t met with a lot of enthusiasm here either, but he said it’s the way of the future. He ordered some this year and they are nearly sold out. Hernandez is looking to get more in stock.
“It’s the way of the future,” he said. “It’s opening up biking to people who could never ride before. It’s like the age group 35 and above, the people that don’t get out and get to see things that they’ve never seen before. They’re here, we can’t stop them so you better jump in or we’re gonna miss the boat completely.”
But the key for him in running his business is customer service, especially to the locals. They are friends who have supported him throughout the years. He hangs out with them, rides with them and he’ll do anything to make sure they are happy.
“My biggest priority in this business is customer service and to take care of our locals especially,” Hernandez said. “I can’t thank them for keeping me in business this long.”