hometown hero

Chris Beaufait in his Monkey Wrench bicycle shop.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s shelter-at-home order for the coronavirus had several loopholes and you could ride a bicycle through one.

That’s why Monkeywrench bicycle shop is semi-closed with owner Chris Beaufait working his sixth straight day Saturday with the doors partially shut.

With Kemp’s exercise exemption, St. Simons sidewalks and side roads always seem to have people running, walking and bicycling. It is the latter that keeps Beaufait busy working mostly alone after he sent his staff home.

The sign says “no service,’’ but like the shelter-at-home, it has some exceptions that have kept him hopping. If it’s a bicycle he sold, Beaufait will do the routine adjustments and other service, most of which takes minutes.

“If people are thinking about pulling their spiderweb-covered bikes out, now is not the time,’’ he said.

When his shop was fully staffed, the Monkeywrench staff worked on repairs quickly but now Beaufait has to ask some customers for patience.

“These are unprecedented times,’’ but he’ll do what he can to get people back in the bicycle saddles, he said.

Beaufait said he is very wary of exposure to the virus, but so far, so good. Everyone has remained safe distances from each other apparently with the rules becoming second nature. Most have been respectful except for one caller who made his feelings of unhappiness known.

“It was a New York area code,’’ Beaufait laughed.

Some people are coming in to buy new bikes or accessories such as bells, baskets, panniers or dog carriers. He sold four new bikes in about an hour Saturday when the door was kept mostly closed. So why the new business?

“They looked around and saw what we see, people on bikes having fun,’’ he said.

Besides, it’s very rare that bicyclists even riding in groups get closer than the recommended six feet apart, he said.

He can’t always meet the customers’ needs in sales, however, because supplies are getting tight.

He got in a recent shipment using “creative maneuvering,’’ ordering bikes from a warehouse he never uses with the permission of his supplier’s sales reps.

Not every bicycle shop in the country is experiencing the same boom. Some have seen their business dry up during the pandemic.

“Some bikes shops are closing and will never reopen,’’ he said.

Bicycles have been part of the 54-year-old’s life since his childhood on St. Simons.

“I think St. Simons is responsible for my love affair with bicycles,’’ he said.

As a child on East Beach, when he and friends wanted to go somewhere, they jumped on a bike.

“If you had a flat you had to figure out how to fix it,’’ he said.

When he was in high school, his first job was at Skylane Bike Shop, and he worked at an Athens, Ga., shop when he was a student at the University of Georgia, where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in sculpture.

“I think bikes are works of art,’’ he said.

He founded Monkeywrench in 1996, pulling a trailer around the country making sales and repairs. But then after 9/11, people were reassessing their lives and that’s when he began considering where he wanted to live.

“I wanted to live in a place where I could slide on the flip flops and maybe have breakfast outside,’’ and of course ride a bicycle, he said. “That place turned out to be St. Simons.”

It’s also where his parents still live.

One customer after another came by Saturday, some buying bells, a couple called for replacements for broken pedals and Ernest Gilbert bought a bicycle trailer for his spaniel.

“He’s doing pretty well for a closed store,’’ Gilbert said as he looked at customers scattered at the required distances.

A woman who bought a basket said, “Bike shops in Atlanta are slammed.”

A couple came in and bought two bikes, and a woman bought one for her daughter.

When one customer called and asked about a bicycle, Beaufait said, “Supplies are limited. Come by. Bring your patience.”

To a customer who called about picking up a repaired bike, Beaufait said, “I’ll be here until 3. After that, I’m leaving and praying for rain.”

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