by Kirby LindsayFremont has some truly funky spaces – that is, our small businesses often make homes for themselves in entirely odd shaped, curiously accessed and/or extremely adapted facilities. ADD Motorworks occupies one that meets all that criteria, and more.
Father Knows Best?
In 2009, Brad Johnsen sought a location where he could repair scooters and small motorcycles. He’d decided to open his own shop where he could offer customers the service he thinks they deserve, and for approximately five months he wandered alleys and poked his head in garages with no success. When he did find a space, landlords wouldn’t lease to him – sure he’d fill their building with grease.
It was his Dad who pushed him to look around Fremont, again, and together they spotted the ‘For Lease’ sign. The space, in the back basement of 315 N 36th, has a barn door for an entrance that opens off an alley. Just inside the door, stairs sink down into the shop, while just outside stands a row of scooters.
In The Blood
During summer months, the scooters out front usually belong to clients. In winter, Johnsen admitted, they are bikes intends to strip for parts. “I rarely buy new parts,” he explained, and likes to use items on-hand. He can appreciate the recycling aspect but, he admitted, “I’d rather get something done than wait for parts on order.”
From a young age he worked on bikes, having a natural aptitude and understanding of the mechanics. He also likes meeting demands of his customers – people who ride scooters for economic reasons, and depend upon them functioning on demand. Many of his customers ride year round, regardless of the weather. “Two dollars for gas, don’t need insurance and easy to park,” Johnsen explained of reasons many people have turned to the quick, easy vehicles for commuting.
Yet he also helps customers who get their scooter out of storage after a long winter, and need help getting them operational again. “Cars are designed to be fool-proof,” Johnsen explained, “scooters need more care.” For this reason, he finds himself giving preventative advice, to help customers successfully winterize, and avoid breakdowns.
On The Side
The repair of scooters led Johnsen to open ADD, but a curious sideline – in a nearly vacant niche – actually takes up the majority of his small shop.
Growing up, on Bainbridge Island, Johnsen’s family owned an old pinball machine called Surf Champs. The machine worked at one time, but Johnsen has no memories of playing it as a kid. Decades later, he found and fiddled with a pinball machine in Georgetown. The challenge intrigued him and, with his brother (a motorcycle mechanic,) they proceeded – with many errors – to figure out and fix Surf Champs.
Pinball machine mechanics, according to Johnsen, have nothing in common with scooter motors, or anything else. Professionally, he now works on machines that range in date from the start of pinball, in the 1930s, to the late 1980s. “There is no technology like it anymore,” he said. The machines use an electromechanical system, of magnets and relays, “like a giant analogy calculator.” The more modern machines continued to use relays in the playfield, but switched to circuit boards for operating the score board.
As his reputation among pinball collectors has grown, so has his own collection of machines. Besides repair, he also can modify the machines to adjust flippers, and other playfield features, that make the game play faster or slower. He’s learned all about the original manufacturers – all companies originally based in Chicago – during the golden age of pinball, roughly 1960s to 1980s. He’s also unearthed works by the artists who created the back glass, and identified the designers who set up the most popular playfields.
In his shop, Johnsen has a rough arcade set-up for use by friends and respectful visitors. With so few places in the area for pinball play – although Johnsen did point out that Seattle does have a pinball museum - he would someday like to open an old-fashioned pinball arcade. Johnsen described a place with machines kept in good repair, serving “really bad, cheap coffee,” he explained, “like brown water in Styrofoam cups.”
For now, Johnsen remains focused on keeping the scooters and pinball machines operating, for those anxious to get back on the road, or in the game. And he does all this from his tiny space, behind the blue bard door, in funky Fremont where success doesn’t always start in shiny, new, square spaces.
©2011 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.