In a world where the number one, two and three rules of retail are “Location. Location. Location,” Andy Alvarez’s Wheel Bite Skate Shop is doing just fine, thank you very much.
Wheel Bite is tucked into a small retail center at 115 N. Fourth St. The small space with a massive selection of skateboards and T-shirts inside Suite 105 has no windows. One A-frame sign on the sidewalk entrance to the center’s interior provides the only visible proof of business.
However, as of this writing, Wheel Bite has 56-out-of-56 5-star reviews on Google, and 7-out-of-7 top reviews on Yelp!
“The streets talk,” said Alvarez, who grew up in East San Jose and spent plenty of time as a youth enjoying skateboarding in downtown San Jose “What can I say? We’re getting attention.”
The reviews are full of referrals and comments about: “no better place,” “super chill guy,” “rare breed of skate shop,” “good selection,” “helped my son build his board and stay in budget,” “dope lil shop,” “great customer service” and on and on.
“I have a lot of knowledge about skateboarding,” said Alvarez, who started skateboarding in 1998. “I never skated in top amateur or pro competitions, but my love for skateboarding took over me.
“Now I’m still doing it, and others can relate to my story. I’m patient with my customers, take the time and make sure they get their money’s worth and have a good experience. And they go home with what they really want.”
Alvarez achieved his childhood dream by opening a year ago in May 2022. Like so many new businesses downtown, the pandemic played a part in his decision to open. COVID was “negative-positive” for him, and the disease claimed the lives of his mother and sister. At the time, he was working two jobs in janitorial services and flooring during the pandemic to support his family. They were able to save the relief funds they received to open the shop.
Alvarez actually intended to start a mobile business in which he would take the skateboards to the riders. He had pressed his vehicle, but couldn’t get the backing of distributors who preferred that consumers seek the product vs. have the product brought to them.
“Let us know when you get a brick-and-mortar shop,” they told him. Alvarez found the space one day when he went to visit Vincent, in the Barber Shop in the center facing St. John Street and found out about the open space.
Four distributors were quick to provide him with a wide selection of “trick skateboards” that can also be used as cruisers from “the Golden Era of skating” in the 1990s and early 2000s, including Black Label, Shorty’s, Element, Toy Machine and Zero.
Andy’s wife, Perla, contributes her expertise as a retail manager to the operation. Daughters Abbie Rose, 4, and Audrie Dinah Alvarez, 12, provide additional support.
About the store name: Alvarez tells the story of one time while at the mecca of the downtown skateboarding sub-culture – Plaza de Cesar Chavez – he struggled to accomplish a trick known as the Nollie Flip
“I kept getting wheel bite,” Alvarez said, of the condition that happens when the wheels come in contact with the bottom of the board and stop spinning, causing the board to suddenly stop moving. “It’s a great name that all skateboarders can relate to.”