Confluence couple a hit among the community

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On a "good day," Brad Smith's 38-mile drive to work took 90 minutes from Manassas, Va., to Washington.

His wife, Maureen, said a routine 12-mile trip took at least 45 minutes.

When Brad's trip home one day took 5 1/2 hours, they had had enough.

"I told Brad to take me anywhere that didn't have traffic and traffic lights," Maureen said. "So here we are."

"Here" is Confluence Cyclery, a full-service bike shop in a century-old two-story yellow brick building that faces the town park. It's a must-stop for local cyclists and those biking along the nearby Great Allegheny Passage.

And "here" is where the community-minded couple were told they had been chosen as the Laurel Highlands Tourism Entrepreneurs of the Year by the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. Ronald Virag, the bureau's executive director, made a personal visit to tell them.

"We were stunned," Maureen said.

"We had no idea we had been nominated," Brad added.

Virag said the award recognizes those "who embody the entrepreneurial spirit" and have mastered "a plethora of diversified abilities that include marketing, public relations and customer service skills, salesmanship, knowledge of the market and visitors preferences and knowledge of the region."

Virag said cyclists credit the Smiths for "saving their rides" by making timely repairs, including breakdowns on the passage. "Superior customer service is and has been the key to their success," Virag said.

Brad, who retired as a captain after a 24-year naval career, is a meteorologist, oceanographer and environmental engineer. Maureen, a retired school teacher, is a consultant who reviews lesson plans for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

They bought the former Kurtz's Department Store in December 2006, worked as commuting weekend warriors for 18 months on its multi-ceiling first floor, incorporated many new "green" features, moved to Confluence in June 2008 and opened the bike shop four months later.

They make multitasking look like a fine art.

Brad, who worked on bikes as a teenager, helps young bicyclists in the community by repairing children's bikes for little or no charge. He frequently makes free minor adjustments on the bikes of local and visiting cyclists, as well.

When surprised customers insist on paying, Smith points to a fireman's boot on the counter and says they can contribute to the local volunteer fire department of which he is a member. The "boot" has raised more than $1,200.

The Smiths joined the Confluence Tourism Association -- Brad is the treasurer, Maureen is the secretary -- and also are members of the Turkeyfoot Valley Historical Society.

Brad also is a member of the Somerset County Campus Foundation for Allegany College of Maryland board of directors. Maureen volunteers at the town library during the winter and is a member of the PumpkinFest Committee, the town's annual fall festival.

The Smiths' bicycle commute to work is three minutes.

"We love it," Maureen said with a smile.

Information: http://confluencecyclery.com.

Joybox Express

Billy Price will be the featured vocalist when the Joybox Express, the celebrated long-distance piano-based band, makes its first Pittsburgh appearance at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave. in Shadyside.

The band, hosted by Calliope: Pittsburgh Folk Music Society, will perform an all-ages show. A custom-made trike, pedaled by three of the professional musicians, holds a 352-pound piano, an instrument also known as a "joy box," along with other gear.

Carl Hildebrandt, of Squirrel Hill, a pediatrician and professional musician, tows his upright bass behind his bike.

Joybox Express is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to raising money for children's arts and athletic organizations (http://www.joyboxexpress.com).

sportsother - outdoors

Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.


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