Locals have been aware of Jim Curwood for quite some time. The easy-talking, self-professed surf junkie with sun-splashed shoulder-length hair and a blond soul patch has never shied away from attention.
Curwood, a 50-something father of twin 16-year-olds, is the longtime owner of . The store celebrated its 33rd anniversary last month.
Located on Camino Capistrano, it's one of the city's few remaining privately owned establishments.
Curwood earned quasi-celebrity status in San Juan with his entertaining television commercials, which date back to the 1980s and include comical one-liners and Curwood slipping into a bee costume.
“If you grew up around here, you’ve seen the commercials,” said Josh Kang of Rancho Santa Margarita. “Even if you don’t ride bikes, you’ve probably heard of Buy My Bikes.”
But the store owner’s relationship with the community runs much deeper than silly 30-second TV spots.
Born in Scotland, Curwood moved to Los Angeles as a toddler. His family often visited Mission San Juan Capistrano and he decided as a youngster that the combination of surfing and community would eventually draw him to the town for good.
“As a kid, I told my parents that I would end up moving here,” he said.
Sure enough, Curwood made the move in 1977 and opened Buy My Bikes a year later. The shop's first six years were a struggle, he said. But the 1984 Summer Olympics provided Buy My Bikes with its first big push and best month of sales.
“Fortunately, times have changed,” Curwood said. “We can do that kind of business on a holiday weekend now.”
Veteran establishments have become few and far between in the area lately, with private owners often giving way to corporate chains. Although many of the chains offer the same goods as their predecessors, it isn’t easy to duplicate the atmosphere and attitude that accompanies a mom-and-pop joint.
“Time has managed to make us a pillar of the community,” Curwood said.
Curwood is also known for philanthropic efforts.
The store routinely raffles off bikes at local charity events. This summer, Curwood has already donated two bikes to the Historical Society barbecue and San Juan’s Fourth of July festivities.
And he plans to donate more at San Juan Summer Nights, held on the third Wednesday of every month of the season through September.
"We've survived by giving back to the community," Curwood said. “I love this area and people around here have been very kind to me. They’re open-minded folks that are more welcoming than those you might find elsewhere.”
Curwood undoubtedly drums up business through exposure at community activities. However, he said he believes it’s just part of his duty as a long-term resident and business owner.
“A lot of people think that if you give, you’re supposed to get something back in return,” Curwood said. “That’s a wrong frame of mind. I really do enjoy seeing someone’s face light up when we hook them up with a new bike.”
Buy My Bikes will celebrate its 33-and-1/3 birthday Sept. 15 with a DJ party. Everyone is welcome, Curwood said, as long as they bring a record album with them.