- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) - Sit long enough with Eric Neubauer and you’ll see the soul of a skateboarder.

When the 40-year-old elementary school bilingual teacher starts to talk about the freedom, about rolling around Rockford with the fresh air in his face, he gets a bit of a far-off look in his eye and you can tell - he’d rather be skating.

Skateboarding is less of a sport or recreational activity for Neubauer than it is a way of life.

It’s about stepping outside your door and taking off. Seeing where the road will take you - just you, your board and the ground.

Hence the name for Neubauer’s new independent skateboard shop, Ground Floor Skateboards.

Although some business owners would balk at the idea of their store becoming “a hangout” for skateboarders, Neubauer and his wife, Alicia, actually hope for it.

“I want kids to do this for the long term,” Neubauer said. “That it’s not just a fad, but really understand the creativity and the fun in it that I’ve found in the 27 years I’ve been skating.

“It’s finally my time to push what I think is cool about skateboarding and impart my knowledge on kids. … I have decades of experience here. I can tell you what works and what doesn’t.”

From the ground up

Skateboarding enthusiasts already gravitate to Neubauer, said Alicia Neubauer. He’s a natural role model.

“He’s got a job. He’s got a family, and he’s still skateboarding,” she said. “He’s somebody they can look up to.”

The Neubauers hope their new store, which will sell a variety of skateboard parts, shoes, T-shirts and gear, can serve as a place where young and old alike can learn to appreciate the culture and the lessons skateboarding teaches.

“It’s the only activity where you fail 90 percent of the time, but you still do it, and you’re smiling and having fun,” Eric Neubauer said. “I tell kids, ‘Why can’t you translate that to other things in your life?’ That’s what I’m going to be preaching over and over again to all the kids. School is not that hard. Suck it up. In skateboarding, you roll your ankle. You slam your board into your shin. You get up and do that over and over, but you fail a test and you want to quit? Skateboarding teaches you to go and you make your fun and that you have power in your perspective.”

Ground Floor Skateboards will be open from 2 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The store features a wall of decks - the board part of the skateboard - hung to display the artwork on the underside of the boards, a display case filled with different types of wheels, trucks and bearings, and a wide selection of skate shoes, shirts and hats. A complete skateboard will run anywhere from $80 to $150.

Neubauer swears by it all.

“There’s nothing in here I haven’t used myself or comes by high recommendation from people I know,” he said. “Some of the brands - Magenta, Polar, Isle, Hopps -are brands people in Rockford may not be familiar with. They’re companies owned by skateboarders. They’re not some corporate guys in an office saying, ‘What are we going to do to make it look cool?’ There’s real art involved.”

One of a kind

The store - one of a kind in Rockford - has been a dream of the Neubauers for years.

“All of the guys I know, they kept asking me, ‘When are you opening the shop? … It has to be you to do it,’” Eric Neubauer said. “I kept saying, ‘No, I don’t want to do it. I don’t want that commitment.’ … Now, here we are. We did it.’”

The Neubauers think their store will be a good addition to downtown. It fits with the independent spirit of existing retailers.

“And there are no stores for kids downtown,” Eric Neubauer said. “We’re thinking during City Market we can put a table outside, and we can give kids a paper cutout of a board and they can decorate it.”

Neighbor Karen Elyea of Minglewood Boutique is excited to welcome Ground Floor Skateboards to downtown.

“I’m thrilled to see the retail business climate expanding,” Elyea said. “The more the merrier.”

“We’re really excited to see them open,” said Britney Lindgren, owner of Rockford Art Deli apparel shop. “I’m really happy where they’re going, too. That block is becoming really great for shopping, which is good for all of us. … One of our employees is a skateboarder, and he thinks it’s really cool.”

The skate shop’s hours are late afternoons and weekends on purpose, said Alicia Neubauer, who works as an architect.

“We don’t want to be open during the school day,” she said. “We don’t want kids hanging out here when they should be in school.”

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Source: Rockford Register-Star, http://bit.ly/220qwIL

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Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com

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