Azarel Gifts & Bikes in Gloversville endures test of time

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Azarel Gifts & Bikes was opened in 1984 by Karen Brooks. The Gloversville store remains in its original location, at a former gas station. “We’ve just added more since ‘84,” Brooks said. “We’re always looking to add more.”

GLOVERSVILLE – When Nathan Jancek walked through the narrow aisles of Azarel Gifts & Bikes late on a Saturday afternoon earlier this month, he said it was his first time in the store in more than 25 years.  The shop, in a former gas station at 275-277 N. Main St., was jammed with inventory.

“Everything’s exactly the same, almost,” said Jancek, 34.  “There’s just more stuff.”  He recently moved back to Gloversville from Schenectady and said Azarel had been a favorite destination during his youth, when he and a cousin would go there to buy parts for their BMX bikes.

“You’re in 1994 right here,” Jancek said.

The owner of the store was not offended by that statement. Karen Brooks laughed and stepped out from behind the checkout counter near the front door.

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Brooks said the sales of new and used bicycles, and their servicing, were the most important contributors to the store’s yearly revenues. But she feels two-wheeled conveyances are not what makes her place unique and for this reason bikes are listed after gifts in the store’s name.

As a visitor was looking at some eight-track tapes that were displayed for sale along the store’s central aisle, Brooks began a color commentary about some of the retail establishment’s wares. Most of them are kept in the part of the building which had been used as twin service bays when the property was a neighborhood filling station.

“I have new items and I have used items,” Brooks said. “I sell all kinds of odd things, strange things. You wouldn’t believe what sells. I sell all weird stuff.”

On shelves near the eight-tracks were different depictions of little cows rendered in resin and ceramic. They are the types of things that could be found on top of a young girl’s dresser. The owner categorizes them, along with a large chunk of the other merchandise, as knickknacks.

“We’ve got DVDs,” Brooks said, pointing out more of the stock. “We’ve got bicycle parts. We’ve got knickknacks, earrings, more knickknacks, and keychains.”

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CASH AND A CAR

Nathan Jancek thought Azarel Gifts & Bikes had a 1994 vibe, but the shop opened here exactly a decade earlier.

Brooks, who still lives in a house across the street, had been conducting a yearly cellar sale since she moved there in 1972.  She watched with interest the trade at the old gas station opposite her home, where a man sold and serviced lawn mowers. It had good visibility to the many cars which passed daily along North Main Street.

“I decided that maybe I’d go over there and open this up and clean out my cellar,” Brooks recalled of her decision in the spring of 1984. “So I did.”

Included with the cash consideration for the purchase of the property was Brooks’ 1974 Monte Carlo. Without her Chevrolet, she said, there would not have been a sales agreement.

“He wanted my car awfully bad,” Brooks said. “It was the big one, from ‘74.”

Gifts were the store’s only focus for the first year of business, after which Brooks added the sales and servicing of bicycles. Seeing youngsters and adults in the neighborhood riding bikes convinced her that it made commercial sense to expand the business. Brooks said that revenues from bicycle-related sales have allowed her to sustain Azarel Gifts & Bikes as a going concern.

About half of the knickknack inventory is new, Brooks said, and most of the used inventory is sourced from garage sales.  She rarely buys from visitors to the store.

“My first customer today wanted to sell me something, and I said I couldn’t do this,” Brooks said. “I’d never seen the guy before. How do I know he didn’t steal it? You’ve got to be careful.”

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COASTING ALONG

The store has been open three days a week over the winter, Thursday-Saturday, from 1 to 7 p.m.  Winters have always been the slowest sales period of the year, Brooks said, but she plans to run a Tuesday-Saturday schedule beginning next month, when nicer weather typically gets many people to think again about their bicycles.

“My best year was when COVID came out – 2020,” Brooks said. “I couldn’t keep bicycles here. Out of all the time I’ve been here, that was my best year. Isn’t that strange?”

Brooks has been the sole proprietor and only employee throughout the store’s existence. Overhead is low because of the tiny payroll and because the owner does not pay rent. A mechanic is kept on retainer to service and assemble bicycles as needed.

In recent years, some friends and relatives of Brooks, 69, have suggested she consider retirement. She quickly ends these discussions and says she plans to keep crossing North Main Street, from her house to her store, and back again at night, so long as she has odd and weird things to sell.

“What am I going to do?” Brooks asked.  “This is it.  This is what I’ve done for years.  Do you want me to go home and sit in a chair?”

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