Board room

A new skateboard shop in Sparks opened earlier this year

Milton Bradshaw owns Sierra Nevada Skateboards.

Milton Bradshaw owns Sierra Nevada Skateboards.

Photo/Brad Bynum

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“I’ve been a skateboarder since 1983,” Milton Bradshaw said recently. “Before we had skate parks, I just did it every day. As part of that, I had a ramp at my house that people came to for almost 10 years.”

He’s originally from Santa Cruz, but moved to Reno in 1987. In 2003, he started a skateboard manufacturing company called Sierra Nevada Skateboards. He shut down that company in 2008 because it was difficult to get materials, especially maple. But, as of February this year, Sierra Nevada Skateboards is back—as a store.

The store shares a location, 424 Greenbrae Drive, Sparks, with Forever 2 Wheels bicycle shop. The bike shop had previously sold a few skateboards, but, according to Bradshaw, the location was ripe for a dedicated skateboarding shop—primarily because it’s only about a block from Burgess Park skatepark.

“I want to see how many new skateboarders I can start,” Bradshaw said. “In this neighborhood, it’s a lower-income neighborhood. There’s not a lot of disposable income out here, but there’s an incredible need for the kids to do something.”

New ride

Like many specialty businesses, skateboard shops were once more common. Now there are only two. Prior to Sierra Nevada opening in Sparks, there was only one: Classic Skate Shop, 299 E. Plumb Lane. The dwindling number of skate shops—despite the continuing popularity of skateboarding—can be attributed to a couple of factors that have hurt a lot of small businesses: the big box stores, like Walmart, and the big online retailers, like Amazon.

“The fact of the matter is that third largest player in the world for skateboards is Amazon,” Bradshaw said. “They sell all of them.”

But a skateboard, like musical instruments, can be a dangerous item to purchase online. Finding the right skateboard can be a bit like Harry Potter visiting Ollivander’s to find just the right magic wand. Bradshaw prides himself in helping match boards to riders.

“You have to hold a skateboard, and stand on a skateboard, to decide if you want to ride it,” he said.

Sierra Nevada is a direct dealer for some of the best names in skateboarding, like Independent trucks and Santa Cruz skateboards and the store sells clothing, skateboards and parts, including shop decks and shop shirts. And the shop also serves as a community nexus point. Bradshaw knows many of his customers by first name and details about their lives. He gestured toward a young skater in his shop: “That kid comes in here almost every day to meet other skateboarders and go to the skate park. I don’t ask him to do it. He just comes in. There’s no video games. He’s just waiting for skateboarding to happen.”

Bradshaw is happy to note that skateboarding has become more diverse in recent years. He sees different ages and races come through his doors, and says, “Girls are becoming a huge demographic in skateboarding.”

He sells a lot of small run, limited edition boards—stuff that appeals to him.

“If it were a record store, these would all be rare vinyl,” he said.

He knows the history and culture of skateboarding, but his friendly, approachable personality is at odds with the elitist snobbery you might expect from any youth-oriented specialty store. “I don’t look the part. I don’t look like what you would expect a skateboarder to look like. … When you look at me, you think, whose uncle is running this?”

His customers aren’t shy about asking questions.

“They’ll come in, and they have a Walmart board. And they say, ’Can you give me some new wheels? My board is really slow.’ And I look at ’em, and some of these are plastic. Plastic trucks and everything. The real key is that they’re so cheap that normal skateboard wheels won’t work the bearings or anything that go in them. So, I have to turn around to the kid and say, ’I’m sorry, kid, but I can’t fix your skateboard,’ and then I have to explain it. I keep these complete skateboards on the wall. And they’re a little bit more, but they can afford them, and they’re real skateboards. So, when I say, I can’t fix this one, but I have this one over here. And when they see the price, they usually do it, and I’m starting a skateboarder on his way. I’m not just fixing a problem to sell some wheels. … I didn’t introduce him to skateboarding—or her—but they got what they needed when they came and saw me. That’s the important part.”

But once his customers have the proper equipment, he’s happy to tutor them on maintenance and repair.

“A lot of kids don’t know hot to put together their skateboard, so I get a chance to show them how to do that. And would they get that from Amazon or eBay?”

And he thinks skateboarding is due for another increase in popularity.

“Next year is the Olympics, and skateboarding is in the Olympics for the first time,” Bradshaw said. “And we have a bunch of new people from California in Spanish Springs who are already welcoming to skateboarding. They’re already acclimatized to it. I figured rather than have them drive across town—they drive past me to go to work. We give a Tesla discount.”

It’s a different world for skateboarding than in the ’80s when Bradshaw was starting out.

“It was illegal,” he said. “I’ve gotten tickets for it and been arrested.”

One remnant from that era is the “no skateboarding” sign posted above the entrance to his shop. It looks like it’s been there for 20 or 30 years.