Florida Keys Business
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Call of the COAST
Harbor shop and hangout embraces the 'coast,' both place and pace

Coast.

The word represents both a place and a pace, says Billy Kearins, whose new "harbor shop and hangout" on Stock Island celebrates the ambiguity of the word that also happens to be the name of the business.

Coast is a specialty shop "dedicated to selling all things 'coast,' said Kearins, who spent several years at the helm of Key West's snorkel boats before becoming a boat builder himself.

He's also a dedicated skateboarder and bicyclist, intimately attuned to the welcome respite of a downhill coast following a grueling exertion.

Coast represents a welcome and alluring break from something, be it land, as it meets the water, or that sigh of relief at the top of a hill.

And it's that sigh of contentment Kearins hopes to replicate inside his shop, which he said will always be a work in progress.

Coast, 6404 Front St., Stock Island, carries a high-end line of Scandinavian-built bicycles that are as pleasing to look at as they are to ride. Kearins discovered the Pilen cycles and Christiania cargo bikes -- with cargo boxes built into the front end -- during a five-year stint in Copenhagen.

He had been driving a snorkel boat when he met a girl from Copenhagen.

The two now have two children and have lived in both Denmark and Key West.

Kearins loved the bicycle-friendly atmosphere of Copenhagen, saying it was the only similarity between that city and Key West.

But many of the bikes he rode weren't even sold in the States.

"So now I'm also a wholesaler for these bikes in North America," said Kearins. "I knew I wanted to open a shop in Key West and I knew I wanted to sell these bikes, but I also knew I didn't want to open a 'bike shop', per se."

Hence, the melding of work, play, land and sea -- Coast.

The weatherbeaten building, formerly a boatbuilding shack, also features handmade bicycle baskets, foul-weather hats, and locally made children's toys reminiscent of the days before iPads and Wii controllers.

A line of Coast apparel boasts the shop's logo: Coast: Live by it.

"We use shirts from American Apparel, so they're made in the U.S.A.; we designed the logo ourselves, and we do the silk screening on the T-shirts right here," said Kearins, who opened June 1.

The T-shirts are folded, displayed on a large swing that hangs from the ceiling. A rack of hooded sweatshirts are marked with a Coast patch at the left breast pocket.

"The patches were made right here and then sewn onto the sweatshirts right out back," Kearins said. "A friend of ours brought her sewing machine over and got to work. We're trying to blur the line between work and play."

There are handmade collections of pottery from Key West Pottery, bike accessories, books, magazines, travel guides and more constantly to come.

"We want to get involved with other people doing cool stuff, and I want to get people back to using their hands again," he said. "I'm big into finding unique items that aren't available everywhere else. Shopping should really be an enjoyable experience."

That's where Phase 2 of Coast comes in: The Projects by Coast.

Kearins and his business partner, Billy Litmer, will offer affordable workspaces in shipping containers on the Coast property. The area will also include a community garden, outdoor areas for demonstrations and other events and indoor office space.

One unit already is occupied by a guy who repairs sails. Another guy might repair lobster traps or fishing gear, while an artist just needs studio space. The possibilities are endless and Kearins welcomes ideas.

"That's why I'm calling it a harbor shop and hangout," he said. "I want people to just stop by, see what's new in the shop and wander out back to see what people are doing."

mmiles@keysnews.com

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