The State of Skate: Speaking With Brian Jules, Owner of Westside Skates

From The Lakewood Observer Volume 13, Issue 10

During the last twenty-two years, Westside Skates has become a staple of Northeast Ohio’s skateboard scene. Since opening the doors in 1995, owner Brian Jules has seen and supplied an evolution in skating trends. I had the opportunity to talk with Brian about skateboard styles, developments in the community, and what motivated him to raise a skate shop in lovely Lakewood, Ohio.

It was a cool day in mid-March when my son and I walked into Westside Skates. Brian was busy helping a young man, accompanied by his mom, pick out the right board for his birthday. While the boy carefully chose his complete set, my son and I found a complete array of boards on the walls. We started in the very back room, where the eighties style decks decorated the wall behind a half pipe. The middle room was decked with longboards, cruisers, and shapeshifters. And the front room had everything a skater could want: a wall full of decks, clothes, shoes, trucks, wheels and, to the mother-of-the-birthday-boy’s relief, helmets.

I started skating in the nineties. I remember having a lot of fun. When I was getting the hang of it, I bought a board from Westside Skates at its original location. Brian had decided to open Westside where The Flying Lemur bookstore used to be, on the southwest side of Madison and Bunts. “I remember we had to paint the floors because they were all vines… the landlord was reluctant to give us some paint,” he joked. After some effort and a few fresh coats of paint, Westside was open for business.

Brian knew that he was taking a chance opening a skate shop. While there was plenty of popularity in the eighties, the early nineties were a low point for the skateboard industry. So why did Brian choose to open a skate shop during an ebb in demand? “Originally I wanted a place for people to meet…exchange information,” he explained. “I just graduated from Kent, went out to Hollywood, didn’t like it out there.” When he came back, he realized something was missing. “(I was) like, wait a second there’s no 100% skate shop in Cleveland. I used to skate with the guy who had a skate shop on the East side of Cleveland, Ohio Surf and Skate (who) gave me some ambition to start our own business.”

As the nineties progressed, so did the style of skating. Westside sold the thinner, faster, “popsicle” shaped decks instead of the older eighties models. Skaters were incorporating more flips into their tricks and when they were looking for a cool place to skate, they went wherever DIY skateparks were found. These parks were built by skaters with sometimes makeshift materials. They were constructed in spots where they could hone their craft without distraction, but there was a problem: sometimes these DIY parks weren’t exactly within the legal realm. “You take your chances for sure,” Brian recalled. He told me about a specific DIY park that used to be on the west side. It was shut down just after concrete was poured for a half pipe.

Luckily, In 2004, the City of Lakewood opened a community skate park at Lakewood Park. It became a place where skaters could continue to hone their craft without wondering if it would still be there the next day. I asked Brian what effect the park had on his store and the neighborhood. “It was a boost,” he said. “It did help out a lot. It draws people from all over the surrounding suburbs, counties.” He was happy that it was designed by a skater. He went on to say that it was a great place to shoot demos with the pros and also a great place to spectate.

In 2009, when Westside Skates moved to their current location across from Lakewood High School on Madison, business was picking up.“When we first moved here was our busiest year ever.” Brian recalled how they still had most of their items in boxes from the move but didn’t have time to unpack as they were so busy. The store space increased and the business grew.

Currently, Westside has a promotional skate team of “the finest talent in the area.” The team includes names like Canton’s own Jonny Carl, who was recently featured in an Instrument Skateboard ad in Thrasher Magazine. “He’s super good.” When not on road trips promoting Westside with his team, Brian is hosting Art shows and local video premieres, “In today’s day and age, a lot of kids, they film everything and a lot of them are talented, they edit it, they make skate videos like the pro videos, so we host the new premieres in the back. We host pro video premieres sometimes.”

Lakewood has a unique store in Westside Skates. While rolling with the new trends and developments in the skateboard world, owner Brian Jules has provided boards and gear for not only Lakewoodites, but the surrounding communities as well. He’s seen the shape of the boards change. He’s seen the city embrace skateboarding by building a great skate park. And, to the delight of all local skaters, his store will be here to supply and promote the next big thing in skateboarding.

Jeffery Ross is a long-time Lakewoodite who has recently decided to get his writing career underway. His interests include birdwatching, uprooting baobabs, and painting roses.

Lucky to be Local

From The Lakewood Observer Volume 13, Issue 7

From Woodstock, while eating an incredibly yummy barbecued meal from a pie tin, I realized how fortunate I am to live in this time and place. Not in the existential sense (though that could be the premise for my next article) but in the geographic one.

You see, I have lived near the corner of Madison and Chesterland for almost six years now. And since my arrival, I have witnessed some serious changes to the neighborhood. I’ve seen Sulivan’s close, re-open, close again, change names and management, then finally open as The BottleHouse Brewry. I’ve seen the opening of yoga studios, furniture stores, thrift stores, toy stores, resale shops, and more. I’ve seen Mahall’s transform into an awesome venue for shows while keeping their lanes. I’ve seen Bella Dubby molt into Taco Tonto’s. I’ve seen an ugly building get demolished almost overnight. And I’ve seen the recent construction of Woodstock, where the food doesn’t just taste good, it feels good to eat.

I used to play open mic’s at Trio’s. It was a nice local bar that brought in nice local people. It was purchased by Robert Togliatti, who decided to give it a complete overhaul. The only thing that looks familiar is the bar. Everything else is brand new and well thought out. The lighting, the wood paneling, the menu, the food selection, and the tall tables all work together to give this spot an air of professionalism. Nothing in this eatery seems thrown together. But as well crafted as its atmosphere and food are, it’s also “come as you are” casual. I like that.

I was able to witness the metamorphosis from Trio’s to Woodstock. And the more I heard about what was being done, the more excited I became. Not just to eat there, but to have a cool addition to the neighborhood. It was exciting to watch the demolition and reconstruction of the brick wall that used to face Madison Avenue. What was brick and mortar is now retractable glass. And the addition of a terrace was a welcome upgrade.

I used to shoot pool. A lot. I used to bring my own personal cue to Mahall’s. Not only did they have some of the finest retro bowling lanes this side of 117th, but about a dozen sturdy professional-sized pool tables as well. Relics from…the sixties? And their billiards room was barren. Which I liked because I could concentrate on my shots. Billiards has been going out of style for a long time. I have witnessed the closing of almost all of the local pool halls so I knew the days when I could walk down the street to shoot some stick were limited. When the remodeling began, I hoped that they would hang on to one table. They turned the room into a venue for what is happening now instead of…the sixties, complete with a stage for bands and presentations, a dance floor, and a retractable wall that faces Madison. They also updated their bar. The atmosphere is hip without ostentation and the brew is divine.  At least they left the lanes alone.

Now, I am within short walking distance of The Bottle House Brewery, which, by the way, you are missing out on if you haven’t been to. Previous incarnations of this location seemed a bit forced. I never quite understood how a steakhouse was going to thrive there or another sports bar for that matter. They came and went. But when Bottle House showed up, I knew that they were the right match. It’s not due solely to  the fine details that they put into crafting a local delicious brew.  Nor is it solely the fact that they showcase their craft proudly front and center, in barrels of ale and mead. At times there are two people behind the bar: a bartender and a barista.

But that’s not why I knew they were a good fit in my neighborhood. It was when I saw the new sign go up outside. It may not stand out as awe-inspiring. But before Bottle House came, there was a plastic banner hanging over the front door to let onlookers know the name of the establishment. When Bottle House arrived, they pulled that plastic banner down, with one hand I assume, and put up a well-constructed sign with a nice font and big, legible letters. After this, they must have realized that something was askew, because they had this sign taken down to have some repair work done to the bricks surrounding it. That, along with all of the aforementioned details, was what stood out to me: taking pride in every detail.

The concept of the butterfly comes to mind when thinking about my neighborhood. Three of the main establishments have taken it upon themselves to put a genuine effort into transforming from acceptable to exceptional, two decided to include serious demolition. Six years ago, when my neighborhood was considered acceptable, the complete demolition of a building may have indicated a downward trend. But after witnessing first-hand how much pride and effort the surrounding businesses have put into creating unique experiences, I can’t wait to see what will be constructed in its place.

J. William Ross is a long time Lakewoodite who has recently decided to get his writing career under way. He hasn’t written an article since college, but remembers the process being very enjoyable. His interests include international affairs, music, and replacing corporate fast food locations with movie theaters.

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