In 2009, Jeric’s Skate Shop was teetering on the edge of closing. The rise of online retailers, mall chains and the recession were a wicked combination that left many independent skateboard shops in the dust.
No sweat. Skaters live on the edge, often on the edge of a ramp. And it’s a 3-foot ramp that Jeric’s owner Thomas Ohm credits with saving his business. Installing a small ramp in the shop was always something Ohm wanted to do, but space and insurance constraints kept it on the back burner.
But as the economy slowed sales and walls previously dedicated to merchandise opened up, space was no longer an issue. The more pressing problem was money.
“By 2009 we only had $1,000 left in our bank account,” Ohm said. “We were done. So I said let’s take the final $1,000 and build a ramp. I said that if we’re done with this, I want to go out skating. By flirting with that dream of mine, I was able to keep this dream going.”
The ramp was an instant hit. After building it, Ohm invited friends, customers and others to Jeric’s, and they skated until 5 a.m. As Ohm saw indie skate shops around him closing, including the Jeric’s location in Joliet, he knew he needed to find a way to be different. The ramp proved to be the remedy. Now it’s a popular skating spot in the winter, a place where Ohm can teach lessons and a place that beginning skaters can get comfortable before hitting the skate park.
“For the rest of his life, he remembers where he dropped in for the first time,” Ohm said of people who try their first ramp at Jeric's. “We get to be a part of making those memories.”
Building the ramp is just one way Jeric’s has established itself as part of the community. It’s always been a family-owned business, and Ohm said he’s honored to continue that tradition.
The original store opened in 1985, and Minooka native Ohm began shopping there at age 7. He fell in love with skateboarding while watching Back to the Future, starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, during the scene where he grabbed the back of a car to skitch away from Biff and the gang. So his dreams really came true in 1995, when his family bought Jeric’s.
At 17 Ohm delivered pizzas but also worked at the shop a lot. He went to Illinois State to study marketing before returning to the store and essentially running it by his mid-20s. Even during college he would come home every few weeks to help out.
Ohm credits a lot of the success to the customers who come to his store, and with fewer skate shops around they are coming from farther away.
“I had to learn about what people wanted,” Ohm said about how he had to adjust from customer to owner. “Especially now at 36, what I think is cool versus what the skin-tight pants wearing kids think is cool, I really rely on the kids for help there.”
There’s a mutual respect between Ohm and his customers, and that’s perhaps best displayed by the Jeric’s skate team. The team is composed of area skaters with a high level of skill. Jeric’s helps promote them and gives them gear, and they in turn promote the store.
“If you’re raw and you want to support us, we want to support you back,” Ohm said. “If you’re jumping off a building on your skateboard, we want you to be wearing a Jeric’s shirt.”
The team is a way Jeric’s gets involved in the community, and it also speaks to Ohm’s marketing savvy. He’s made Jeric’s more than a skate shop, but part of the community and more of a brand than a store.
Along with the Plainfield Park District, Jeric’s runs an annual skating contest that draws people from four hours away. Ohm also began a “product hunt,” posting a photo of a local spot on Instagram and encouraging followers to find the spot, post a photo of themselves and win a prize. And now he’s planning a web series featuring skateboarding videos. He wants to build the brand further and even become an entertainment company.
As high as his dreams might go, Ohm stays grounded with the local store and the people who come there. He especially loves when a new kid moves to town and they come by Jeric’s. They’ll say they miss their friends, they’re lonely. A few days later, that kid is back with other friends who skate, ready to take a dip on the ramp that helped save the store.“It’s a gift,” Ohm said. “It’s the coolest thing in the world to have a chance to be a part of the community.”
Jeric's is located at 15420 Rt. 59 in Plainfield. To learn more, go to the Jeric's website.