When you walk into any large sporting goods chain store, you will find a variety of sports represented. However, one glance inside and you realize this is not your run of the mill sports shop.
"The first thing that occurs here when people come through the door is that you hear them say 'wow.' That's because we have more inventory per square foot than any store in any direction you pick," said owner Jason Fenton. "We don't do other sports like roller blading and skiing, and we don't sell patio furniture. Our sole focus is cycling, so we're not distracted by the seasonality of the ski industry or other sports. Our staff is focused on one sport."
first opened on Route 1 in South Brunswick in 1987, with Fenton taking over from original owner Dave Halter in 2006. Fenton began working at Halter’s in 1992.
"I worked here for a really long time and (Dave Halter) trusted in me to run the store, so I went from doing basically nothing to doing everything," Fenton said. "As time went on it became apparent to both of us that it was the right move for me to take over. It was great for me because I was able to make mistakes on his dime, but learned enough to be set free on my own after awhile. But we've seen really good business since then and we've been growing every year."
The store stocks an almost overwhelming inventory, with shoes, cycling gear, tools, and of course, bicycles. The store carries mountain bikes, road bikes, hybrid and triathlon specific bikes.
While other cycling shops may have a staff member or two who rides, the staff at Halters eats, sleeps and breathes cycling.
"I've loved bikes ever since I could walk. I've always been enamored with mountain bikes. I go riding in my free time, and I pretty much spend every minute I can on bikes, which is a lifestyle choice," Fenton said. "I can't imagine a job where I'd be sitting behind a desk all day."
Fenton said he has the same expectations for any member of the staff at Halter’s.
"One of the things that sets us apart is that everybody who works here rides bikes, it's a prerequisite," he said. "You'll see us out at local events and charity rides. We're fully immersed in the subculture, which you have to be. Some shops have people who are just there to work, but their job could just as easily be selling electrical outlets at Home Depot."
Growing up in Maine, Fenton said he tries to bring some of his small town sensibilities to South Brunswick, where he has resided since 1996.
"Being from Maine, it's kind of a different way of living, where it's considered a little bit rude if you don't talk to everyone you pass on the street," he said. "People respond well to that when they come into the store. We treat you like a human being. We remember people's names, or at least remember their bikes. It's a personal touch we try to add."
As a down economy could devastate a specialty store like Halter’s, Fenton said the popularity of the sport in the area and the quality of the merchandise has allowed Halter’s to continue thriving.
"New Jersey is unique in that we have the highest ratio of cyclists per capita in the country. The riding here is surprisingly good," he said. "We have good secondary roads and great trails. There are people who come in here during the summer and instead of taking a family vacation they come in and buy bikes for the entire family. With the D & R Canal nearby, it's a safe place to ride and we have a lot of local bike trails that are a whole lot of fun."
Fenton said customers will often experience sticker shock when they come into Halter’s, with some of the least expensive bikes going for around $300. But he added that you truly get what you pay for when purchasing a bike.
"We sell performance equipment that lasts. If you buy a $200 bike from a chain store, you may need $100 worth of service in the first year. Those bikes are made to be thrown away," he said. "We sell bikes that will last through three kids. It's sickening for us to see places selling bikes with 90-day warranties, when we know those bikes are built to last 91 days. It's really short-sighted."
While Halter’s does have every bike under the sun for high-end performance, Fenton is quick to point out that the shop has something for everyone and every budget.
With a full service area, the shop also custom fits bikes to the rider by appointment, modifying the bike to a rider's particular body type and adjusting the bike's particulars.
"If you have a burning desire to ride then we are your one-stop shop to get your shoes, helmet, pedals, handle bars, tires, we have it all covered," he said.
"What's great about us is that we have no allegiance to any one brand, so we cherry pick what works best for local riders."
With over 30 years in South Brunswick, Fenton said has become a destination for cyclists throughout the state, united by a shared love for riding.
"We're not as polished as some of these super high-end stores," he said. We may be a little bit grungy, but that's because we're having a good time doing the stuff we love to do."