Saturday, August 7, 2010

Shop Stop: The Spare Parts Company

Saturday, August 7th, the dog days of summer. My wife, Kristen, and I took a trip to downtown Philly to have lunch and enjoy the long overdue break in the record setting hot weather. After some delicious Italian food and some window shopping, we headed over to The Spare Parts Company on 4th and Vine - a place where my late father used to frequent quite a bit. Over the years I've heard countless stories of the original owner, Franz and his infamous Motorcycle shop as well as his tube amplified radio collection. I also heard that I had a lot in common with the shop mechanic and current owner, Roland Sotello, who was just a few years my senior and had an alter-ego as a rock musician. I had never met Roland, but I figured we had mutual friends (my late father being one of them) so I decided that I should stop by and introduce myself.

We walked up vine looking for the shop, which wasn't hard to spot: a half dozen or so Moto Guzzi's and BMW's parked out front while a slightly salt and peppered, shaggy haired man, with black rimmed glasses carrying an air compressor, eagerly helped a young female rider with her front tire. This must be Roland... well his shirt said Roland so it was pretty obvious.
I introduced myself and my wife, explained who my dad was and he immediately invited us in to see the shop. Inside was just how I pictured it to be. The hundred-something year old garage had a musty mixture of oil and rubber in the air. An old Raleigh Golden Arrow bicycle leaned against a wall. Pictures of bikes and cars mixed with vintage shop signs and helmets gave the space an organic soul, only years of operation could create.
Of course there were plenty of standard items for sale, and plenty of motorcycles in various states of repair and restoration. Tires piled head high in the corner and an overhead loft filled with *ahem* lots and lots of spare parts.

We chatted about music for a bit. It turned out Roland played in quite a few garage rock bands, one of which had a record out on the very cool Get Hip Records. I recalled my dad telling me about a band Roland played in called Rockula. He laughed "I always hated that name". We traded band stories for a bit, before the subject shifted to Rolands other passion besides bikes and rock 'n roll; Citroen cars and vans. Every so often he travels abroad and buys up these odd but incredibly stylish little French cars and imports them into US. So obsessed about these cars, that it may have surpassed his love for cycles "I don't even own a bike, currently" he confided "people ask me what I ride and I tell them 'the bus!'"

But his love for vehicles of the two wheel persuasion shines through in his work. He's just currently like the cobbler who has no shoes (too busy making them for other people). I can relate as I am in the water filtration business and I haven't done one thing for my own water in the two years I've lived in my house - just no time!
Eventually the conversation shifted back to my pop: "When your dad would walk through the door, all wrenches would drop". Roland then ushered me to the back and pointed to the tool box, adorned with an "in memory of Snuffy Smith" sticker and picture of the old man with a friend looking at a couple of Guzzi's. "that picture is from '92 or '93 I think. Remember that Le Mans?" He was right. My dad didn't have his eyeglasses on, which he pretty much wore from the mid 90's on after giving up on contact lenses. The red Le Mans was definitely an early 90's acquisition of his.

After taking up way too much of Rolands time, we exchanged info and said our goodbyes. On my way out I noted a cool 1993 1000s Moto Guzzi cafe racer. "No more bikes!" my wife cried. I can dream can't I? Somewhere down the road my motorcycle collection will undoubtably shift, it has already - several times. Maybe a Guzzi is in my future... But with summer winding down, I have to get my riding in with the cycles I have before the bikes go back into hibernation for the long, cold North Eastern winter.


  1. Great story, Matt. I bet plenty of motorcycle magazines would love to gave you as a contributing writer!

  2. Ditto on the great story, Matt. You know you do get just a little bit more riding out of the seasons down in NC. In spite of that, I still timed my very first motorcycle purchase so that it snowed while I rode my bike home from the dealership. It only snows a few times a year down in NC so how's that for luck?

  3. Nice read. A great shop indeed. Worthy of a mention. Keep up the great blog.

  4. Matt & Roland, Thanks for letting even more folks ( if that is possible ) learn a bit about the effect Snuffy had on everyone and everthing around him. Also,,,,how we at Spare Parts had the pleasure to be part of his passion for motorcycles and people.

    ***A Snuffy Pit-Stop***

    (a) How is everyone ?
    (b) Any food incoming ?
    (c) What can I do to help ?
    (d) Where ya want to ride ?

    One step into Roland's mechanical "wonderland" says it all. It gets no better. Lucky us, huh ?
    Ride SAfe, Franz

  5. Matt nice story,Roland is great guy,miss Snuffy much....Skip Chernoff

  6. Thanks for the kind words guys. Franz, good to hear from you, hopefully our paths will cross sometime soon. Skip, I will make it down to twt sometime soon, once work gets a little slower

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