Tucson will get its first vintage motorcycle shop and a boost to downtown when Knucklehead Alley opens this summer.
Former real estate agent turned motorcycle enthusiast Michael Skwiat is taking over the last space of the storefront at 63 E. Congress St. owned by Tucson builder John Wesley Miller.
“It’s going to be two stores in one,” said Skwiat of his first retail business, scheduled to open in August.
The back half of the store will be a motorcycle shop devoted to building custom choppers and vintage motorcycles. A glass wall will divide it from the front of the store - a retail space selling vintage accessories, helmets, sunglasses, clothing and shoes.
Skwiat plans to sell brands such as Diesel and Levi’s, but will also have his own Knucklehead Alley line of T-shirts, hoodies, sweaters and hats. He is also in negotiation with some designer friends in New York to supply more clothing labels.
“It will be like a mini Urban Outfitters,” said Skwiat. He expects the motorcycles to fetch $10,000 to $25,000.
A native Tucsonan, Skwiat has always been interested in motorcycles, beginning with his rides during family trips to the beach at Rocky Point (Puerto Peñasco).
But he only got passionate about designing and building them last year. “It was nearly impossible here in Tucson to find a builder doing what I wanted to do,” he said.
Skwiat said the combination of concepts - motorcycle shop plus clothing retail - was crucial. “I don’t think either one would do all that well on their own but together it’s a great concept.”
He plans to hire freelance motorcycle builders, plus retail interns from the University of Arizona.
Old-school choppers came into prominence in the late 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. They typically have shorter forks (the bike fronts) and a stripped down, simple look.
Financing for the new business is coming mostly from Skwiat’s own business deals. He has worked in construction, as a real estate agent, and flipped houses for profit. A small portion of money is coming from a private investor, he said.
Skwiat and Miller signed the deal last month.
In the building, Knucklehead Alley joins two eateries: an outlet of the Jimmy John’s sandwiches chain and On A Roll Sushi. Miller’s own firm, John Wesley Miller Companies, is situated at the back of the building.
Miller and locally owned On A Roll Sushi moved into the building, at the corner of Congress Street and Scott Avenue, in September 2008. Jimmy John’s opened in the fall.
“We kept the door open for somebody that really wanted to be here and was financially solvent,” said Miller of signing up the last client.
“A lot of [new businesses] think they’re going to make money the first month or two. If they don’t have a good financial plan we don’t do a deal with them,” said Miller.
Gillian Drummond is a Tucson-based freelance writer.