Christian Romo fondly recalls the days when Finish Line Bicycles was at the center of the local triathlon scene and he was just one of many trying to swim, bicycle and run their way to the front of the pack.
Although that sport has faded in popularity somewhat over the years, bicycling hasn't — and neither has Romo's enthusiasm for the role Finish Line played within Kern County's sporting community. When word got out earlier this year that the store's owners wanted to sell, the former ag recruiter jumped at the opportunity.
Now, he and the store's other new co-owner, Anthony Romo, are planning a kind of local sports renaissance, one not so much focused on triathlons but on fostering the kind of community connections Finish Line became known for.
The two said there will be renewed efforts to engage with customers outside the store's historical demographics, such as by offering instructional clinics geared toward different audiences. They also plan to put up a display behind the cash register that will highlight the store's central role in local sports since its opening in summer 1984.
Former owners Alan and Gema Bradley said they couldn't be more pleased, having known and respected Christian for years. When he confided to Gema that he was curious about the sale plans, she quickly informed Alan, who asked her to run after him before he left the store's parking lot.
"They're going to take this store to the next level," Gema said.
Hopes are high among the four of them that, as the Bradleys coast off to Costa Mesa for a retirement filled with cycling and paddle boarding, new ownership will uphold Finish Line's legacy of involvement with local sports.
It started in 1985 with a series of 5K and 10K races Finish Line organized every November for about seven years. The proceeds were donated to organizations including Golden Empire Gleaners and a local church that was building a foster home in Mexico.
The store began sponsoring summer time trials for bicyclists. The races helped position Finish Line as a top local sports retailer when the Bud Light Triathlon put Bakersfield on the sport's proverbial map with a race that started in Lake Ming and continued into the lung-bursting hills that surround it.
Some of the sport's biggest names would converge at Finish Line for meet-and-greet events before the race. The store also became a favorite among Cal State Bakersfield's swim teams.
More than all that, Finish Line promoted community — and it still does.
People often drop by just to share their stories. Customers whose parents bought them their first bike at the store stop in to buy their own children a first set of wheels, he said.
"It's not just a bike shop," added Gema. "I think we tried to create a lifestyle for people."
Christian and Anthony, a local college enrollment executive, heartily agree. They say the time is now to engage with customers much the way the Bradleys did, especially now that, Christian says, a new generation of customers is coming in asking for specialized equipment.
They said one priority going forward will be an apprenticeship program in which people aging out of foster care will be hired and trained to work in the shop. Another part of the plan is to carry on and possibly expand the tradition of Saturday morning group rides starting at the store.
While direct sponsorship of competitions is possible in the future, the new owners said first they'll need to focus on the shop. In the meantime, Anthony said there's no plan to change the store's name.
"They've built something that is timeless," he said of the Bradleys. "Our part is carrying on the messaging, carrying on the story."