If you do the math, Gary Collins has been skateboarding longer than a lot of the kids currently skating on a professional level have even been alive. But that doesn’t mean he’s not out there with those same guys, skating around the city — both for fun and as a mode of transportation — working with and advocating for the largely young, male skateboarding community in the Tristate region on a daily basis.
“Anything that has to do with skating in this region … even if I’m not the front man in it, I’m definitely involved,” Collins says. And his involvement is about to go to the next level as he opens his second skateshop, this one in Northside — a neighborhood rich in both community centers for young people (with Happen, Inc., The McKie Center, WordPlay and a soon-to-be-opened arcade), as well as a plethora of young people in need of a positive “third place.”
Collins is the founder of Instrument Skateboards and owner of Galaxie — a busy skate shop on Monmouth Street in Newport, Ky., which he purchased from fellow Kentucky-raised skater Andrew Martin six years ago.
Even though he grew up nearby in Covington, Newport wasn’t Collins’ first choice for location. Prior to buying Galaxie, he had already considered opening up a skateshop in Northside.
“I knew that the neighborhood needed it,” he says, “but I just didn’t have the means to do it.”
So he bought Galaxie from Martin, whom Collins says gave him a good deal because, “he knew that I could take it to the next level, but it was still his vision.”
Fast forward six years and Collins, who already has street with the skaters to whom he wants to sell his wares, now has skateshop-running experience.
“All you have to do is have what they want,” he says confidently.
But it’s clear when you hear Collins speak about all that running Galaxie involves — throwing events, representing the needs of local skaters in meetings with city officials and generally being a positive role model for the young kids he’s in contact with 24/7. To him, a skateshop is so much more than a place to pick up the most recent model of pro goods.
So when another skater friend, Zach Kincaid, approached Collins about opening up a second location, the skater/entrepreneur jumped at the chance.
Although he’s been skating since 1990, Collins has been consistently pushing himself toward the forefront of the regional skate scene on a business level for nearly a decade now. He started Instrument Skateboards in 2005 and, over the course of the brand’s existence, has had his boards in every area skateshop at one time or another.
As part of his duties running Instrument, the shop owner chooses skaters who will ride for the brand, deals with designers and videographers who help him manage the brand image and decides which products to invest in every season. Collins is also partner in the brand Absorb Skateboards, with acclaimed filmmaker and fellow Ohio skateboarder Dave Ackels.
And you can tell Collins knows his business. He’ll talk your head off about the infrastructure of photographers and videographers on the coasts, why the big skate brands are crashing right now and how the path is more paved for guys coming up in the sport these days.
While he concedes the skateboarding industry has gone through several crashes and booms throughout his own career, he believes the industry is also becoming more regional — conveniently enough for him.
According to Collins, when many of the big companies moved their manufacturing woodshops to Asia — not long before he began his own board brand — it freed up American woodshops to supply boards to any enterprising skateboarder with enough money and nerve to start a company.
Buying from a person face-to-face — holding the board you’re going to ride — and feeling good about your purchase makes shopping at the local skateshop a no-brainer for Collins. And it seems to be doing well for him.
“I do have an online option for people who don’t get it or can’t come to the shop,” Collins says. But, he insists, a skateshop is about real physical relationships. “You can talk about it on the Internet, but as far as physically doing anything, the skateshop is a community center. We sell stuff, too, but it doubles as a meeting place.”
A lot of the young kids who come through Galaxie are on their way to the “unofficial” Newport D.I.Y. skate spot, under the 1-471 bridge, and Collins also helps with that project. A wholly community-supported endeavor, Collins speaks with pride about the teenagers putting in so many hours to design/build their own obstacles and create fluid lines for skating.
The endeavor is completely grassroots because Newport officials want no liability. If the city were to come into the equation, they would basically raze the stuff that’s there, and Collins isn’t having it.
“I wouldn’t want them to tear it down,” he says, “it’s such a community thing.”
So he meets with city administrators “unofficially” whenever someone pushes the envelope too much, representing the needs of the skaters who have a vested interest in the area and acting as intermediary for a city that knows that it’s in everybody’s best interest to keep people in at-risk groups occupied with positive activities.
If you hear him talk about the new generation of skateboarders coming up, you’d think he was speaking about his own calculated risks as a business owner. “Once you get to that level, to stand out, you gotta scare the shit out of yourself,” he says.
In a much different way, Collins might be still scaring himself — but he’d probably never admit that. When asked about his hopes for Galaxie’s future, he says that he wants to continue to work with people who are really pushing the envelope in Cincinnati. Moving forward seems to be something that comes naturally for him. As a skater, business owner and local representative of the skateboarding community, you can tell he wants better for himself and his peers. “There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement,” he says with a smirk.
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