Derek Shafer discusses his new venture in Shelbyville.
T-G Photo by Dawn Hankins
Former south Floridian Derek Shafer says there?s nothing more freeing than knowing it will take him only about 5 minutes on most pleasant autumn mornings to ride his Harley from his new Belmont Avenue residence to his new business, American Motorcycle Specialties, located off Anthony Lane.
?South Florida is the worst place to drive,? said Shafer. ?It was funny, when we first got here, I said I?ve got to run some errands. So I got up and did all my errands . . . got back to the house in 35 minutes. What! That?s not right.?
With a laugh, he explained how it can take 45 minutes to travel just seven miles in south Florida. Having moved to Shelbyville this summer, he?s now trying to figure out, he says, what to do with his extra time.
From a recent outsider?s perspective, he understands a lot of the complaints he hears about Shelbyville. But having lived in Fort Lauderdale and then Tampa, he said comparatively in crime, he is finding Shelbyville a great place to live and especially one already in which to do business.
?We left five shootings a night. I do see the problem areas of the town. I think a lot of it is growing pains for a little town. It?s not going to get any better, but it?s not that bad.?
On the subject of pleasantry of his new home, Shafer talks about how his family recently purchased the yellow Victorian two-story on Belmont Avenue ? one which stayed on the market with Craig and Wheeler Realty over a year. The home was in ill shape when John Stefanski of Global Homes Inc., revamped everything from the backdoor to the Veranda-style front porch a couple of years ago.
Shafer explains how he and the love of his life, Misty, have moved into their historic home with two of his three grown children. (his daughter is in college in Minnesota); his mother-in-law and wife?s grandmother; one dog; and two cats.
?I?m a saint . . . three generations of women,? he says with a laugh.
Due to difficulties in the beginning with a home purchase, Shafer said the family had to hole up at Microtel Inn for five weeks. So, needless-to-say, they were really happy when Craig and Wheeler assisted with the purchase on Belmont Avenue.
The family?s now the owners of a historic home complete with three full baths, two half baths and elegant master suites. The veranda-style front porch was a special sitting place years ago for the previous owners, who had photographs of them taken there.
Shafer says that he was particularly interested in the history, noting it first belonged to William A. Frost, who served as publisher of the Shelbyville Gazette on Holland Street from the late 1800s to the middle of the 20th century; his family was said to have ?downsized,? later by building an adjacent home.
Because of its unique architectural design, distinctive ownership and the time period in which it stood, local historians have long-considered the Belmont home a historic landmark. The late newspaper man’s great-granddaughter, Betty Hawkins Smith, lives in Huntsville, Alabama.
The picturesque staircase, which Stefanski spent a lot of time studying and refurbishing, is one of the focal points of the stately home. If there?s a drawback to the stately manor, Shafer says for him, it?s likely climbing that long stairwell several times a day.
But despite that, his family is really enjoying their 4,000 square feet of living space. Discovering the home on an online website, it took them a while to secure it, Shafer says, but given the history, it was worth the wait.
?When I read the history . . . did a little research on the people, I fell in love with the history of the house. If you really look in that area of town, you really see how it used to be, back in the early 1900s. You can really tell what kind of area it was . . . way he [Stefanski] revitalized that house and the way other people are revitalizing the houses in the area, really bringing that area back into a historic district. It?s just beautiful.?
?You know the thing that really sold us on coming here was the little cafe/diner on the square, Coffee Break. That?s what really sold me on this place. Every time we visited . . . they would say ?hey you guys are back.? I love their breakfast burritos. That?s probably what sold me on Shelbyville.?
After grabbing one of those breakfast burritos, Shafer heads down East Depot Street to his already full motorcycle bay, where he custom builds and repairs most motorcycles. He?s in the business to assist customers with everything from basic oil changes to custom fabrication.
When asked if he considers himself a ?Harley Man,? he says, ?I guess.?
Motorcyclists from this area have already placed their trust in him as a certified mechanic for their Harleys, Victory and Indian bikes. Pointing to Florida tags, he discusses how some of his former customers have followed him here for service.
?I do everything motorcycle-related, absolutely everything. I?ve been doing this 24 years now. I?ve had my hands on every aspect of the motorcycle, at least by now, pretty close.?
The ins and outs of motorcycles is really all he?s ever known professionally; he?s comfortable with that aspect of his successful career. It all started, he says, when was just a little boy, actually as a toddler.
He later owned his own shop in Minnesota, where he worked for 10 years. At that point, he says he decided to go to a school to study motorcycle mechanics.
?They taught me how to be professional . . . didn?t teach me anything mechanical-wise. I?ve had a lot of mentors through the years, a lot of mentors. You observe from the old guys, learn their tricks of trade. People who know me, tell that just my knowledge on motorcycles in general is just overwhelming. When you do what I do, you do have to have knowledge . . . be able to spout things off the top of your head. Harley?s been in business 120 years, so how much knowledge can I retain? I?ve forgotten . . . all comes back to you when you start doing it.?
He advised new bike riders to learn all they can about their machine, particularly before hitting the open road. Still, he?s been in business long enough, he says, to witness how people ride them right out of the showroom onto the road with little or no experience.
?If you?re going to ride one, you need to know some basics, at least. I know some guys who ride them who know nothing about them, which is fine with me, too. That?s how I stay in business.?
If there is a downside to his business, he says that would be bike owners waiting until they get ready to jump into the seat in the spring before bringing their machines in for maintenance.
?I wish they?d do that in the winter,? he says.
But because they don?t always heed that advice, Shafer says he?s come to realize that feast or famine aspect of running a motorcycle shop, particularly having gotten his start in Minnesota-the home of inclement weather. He?s proud to have had only about 1 ?come back? in about 20 years; he says that?s good for a man in his type of business.
Having turned a torque wrench for years now, Shafer says he?s really learned there?s more to motorcycle repair than just the mechanics. He likes the aspect of owning a shop, where he believes friendships between people who simply have a niche for owning that shiny forged steel with the capacity to travel hundreds of mph.
?I like the people and the culture in this industry. I could care less about the bikes. The bikes are second. The people are first, because you meet the coolest people. No one is more traveled than a biker. It?s more than a business, it?s a culture.?
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