Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major, is the brightest star in the night sky, 23 times as luminous as the sun, about twice the size, and considerably hotter. It is also the name of the new shop, at 307 Main Street, that specializes in custom-made skateboards and skateboarding accessories. Sirius Skateboards had its grand opening on July 12, 2002 and is owned by Port Washington residents, Jimmy Kallenberg, also owner of Jimmy's Shoes on upper Main Street, and Joe Antonik, after whose pet whippet, Sirius, the shop is named.
The outside of the shop, with its bold signage and new paint, looks as young and fresh as the clientele who pass through the doors and into the distinctive world of skateboards. Inside, customers are treated to an eye popping selection of skateboards plus accessories that include special footwear, designer label T-shirts, backpacks, belts and sunglasses. At the rear of the shop, a lounge area, complete with television and video, allows customers to watch footage of professional skateboarders while friends try on skateboarding outfits in the two fitting rooms. The clientele is very different from the average shopper on lower Main Street, attracting mostly males, between eight and 20 years of age. Even the language is different, a skateboard is not just a skateboard, there is the deck (the board itself), the trucks (the metal part that attaches the wheels to the deck) and the easier to understand bearings, and wheels. But in Sirius even a ball bearing is not just called a ball bearing. Bones and Reds, Zero and Black Label are just some of the hundreds if not thousands of brand name ball bearings and other parts skateboarding enthusiasts can get excited about.
The concept of Sirius Skateboards was dreamed up about four years ago when Antonik strolled into Kallenberg's other outlet, Jimmy's Shoes, and was impressed by the selection of Skateboarding footwear and even a couple of specialized decks. Antonik was even more impressed when Kallenberg recognized the vintage skateboarding footwear he was wearing. He said, "they were these very wild, very loud, Air Walk, Walk Disaster high tops I had kept in the box since the 1980s and Jimmy recognized them. No one else in a million years would have picked them out."
Kallenberg started to stock a small skateboard inventory as far back as eight years ago. He said, "I began to bring in these really cool and very select decks that no-one could get anywhere else." Antonik says that at that time serious skateboard fans were only able to order good skateboarding gear over the internet or through magazines. But it was not a mainstream sport and Kallenberg admits that having groups of teenage guys hanging out in one half of the store while parents with young children were trying on shoes in the other didn't really work. He said, "It was a tough looking crowd. We had a crowd coming from Bayside and another from Glen Cove, only a few of them were actually from Port Washington." According to Antonik it was only in 1995 when television stations started airing extreme sports programs, featuring skateboarding, that skateboarding began to reach a mainstream audience. He says that between 1996 and 2000 the skateboarding industry grew from $500 million to $1 billion. Today, the sport's accessories even include computer games such as Tony Hawk's "Pro-Skater" which Antonik says is currently one of the top-selling Playstation games.
Antonik was convinced the skateboard division of Jimmy's Shoes could run as a business on its own, but it was a few years before things fell into place to convince both men to go ahead with the project. One obstacle was that both men already had full-time commitments. Kallenberg has his shoe business to run and Antonik is director of Respiratory Therapy at the Montefiori Medical School as well as a student enrolled in a full-time MBA course. Surprisingly, it was this second commitment that convinced Antonik the time was right for him and Kallenberg to start the business. Antonik said, "Part of the MBA course required that I do a business plan in January of this year and that was the push to do this." The two owners have to juggle their time, with days being taken up with their original responsibilities and the setting up and running of Sirius being done during early morning, evening, and weekend meetings. One key to their success has been in finding the right person to manage the shop. Kallenberg said, "When you come up with a plan and all the other pieces are in place it is the people you work with who really count. We found exactly the right person in Warren Schnetzer, who has seven years experience in the skateboard and snowboard retail industry."
Kallenberg's interest in skateboarding and his experience as a retail store owner made the choice to start Sirius a natural one, but the experience Antonik brings to the business is equally impressive. He said, "Skateboarding has been a passion since I began at the age of 10." He has taken part in many competitions and even makes time for skateboarding while on vacation. Confirming his dedication to both skateboarding and Sirius, is a photograph of Antonik on his wedding day, which was just one day after Sirius' Grand Opening, in his tuxedo on a skateboard. Antonik is also an avid collector of vintage skateboards and his awesome collection is possibly the largest in the country. He has 70 of his more than 200 skateboards on display at his home and has spent years building up the collection, buying from collectors around the world. Antonik has even converted the property behind his home into a skateboarding rink.
The business has been open for two months and one thing that is becoming clear is that the pre-teen skateboarders are the shoppers in Port Washington. Kallenberg said, "Everyone we spoke to and everything we read stated that the main market was with 16 - 20 year olds, but we are seeing the younger kids coming in. We are selling out of the eight to 10 age range of T-shirts and back packs." All the boards at Sirius are custom-made from brand parts and Schnetzer talks each client through their requirements, and puts together the best skateboard for their needs. The price for a complete standard-sized skateboard ranges from $100 - $150 with the larger, old-school boards costing only a few dollars more.
Kallenberg and Antonik always emphasize safety and encourage all their customers to invest in knee and elbow pads and of course helmets. Antonik said, "The new skateboarders, some who are as young as eight, see the professionals in magazines and videos doing all this cool stuff and want to copy them, but in the videos the professionals don't wear the safety equipment." While it is mandatory to wear a safety helmet when riding a bicycle in New York, to date there is no such legislation for skateboarding. Antonik said that California, having just passed a law that requires skateboarders to wear safety helmets, is the first state to put this type of legislation into place.
Kallenberg sees another way to improve safety for young skateboarders and that is to provide them with their own skateboarding rink. He has already met with Town of North Hempstead officials and said, "they are very interested and see the need for it and would love for it to happen." Kallenberg says there are two locations under tentative consideration and one of those is in Port Washington. Antonik says that with a relatively small start up fund, maybe as little as $30,000, the town could design and construct a small but safe venue for local skateboarders. Once set up, he believes the rink would finance itself by charging a small entry fee and issuing annual passes for regular users. Antonik said, "There are over 800 public skate parks around the country, and on Long Island a lot of the smaller towns are already in the planning or construction phases of their skate parks. It's a must right now, to get the kids out of the parking lots and into a safe environment." Kallenberg added, "I would want to see this happen even if I didn't have this shop in town. I have been pushing for a skate park for three or four years now." Referring to the need for the skate park and the fact many parking lots in town are inundated with skateboarders practicing their skills he said, "This will benefit everyone. The Landmark will love it, the schools will love it, the library will love it, the police will love it and most of all the kids will love it."