It's easy to become friendly with folks who come into the shop. We're friendly, you're friendly, this is a friendly city, and we all want to get along and have fun together! But, it takes time to become real friends; you know, to get beyond any of the power dynamics that can come into play in any type of service setting, to create shared memories and experiences, and to know and appreciate each other as whole people with big, complicated lives that extend beyond bikes.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have built a lot of great friendships with customers over the past handful of years -- many of whom are some of the closest confidants in my life these days. (You know who you are.) And while there's no perfect calculus behind the messy process of building relationships (if there was, life would sure be a whole lot easier), here is my attempt at synthesizing how that sometimes smooth and sometimes laughably awkward transition from customer to friend happens:
Step 1: They come into the shop for some bike-related need.
Step 2: They come back in for some other bike-y need. You tell a (likely unfunny) joke. They politely laugh.
Step 3: You recognize each other in the grocery store aisle, but both pretend not to see the other and instead intently study the label of the bag of Juanitas you're grabbing, because, what would you say? You don't actually know each other.
Step 4: They come into the shop again. In addition to the usual business, you engage in some friendly banter and you laugh at each other's (un)funny jokes.
Step 5: You recognize each other in the grocery store and acknowledge each other's existence with an enthusiastic wave as you continue pushing your carts past one another.
Step 6: They come into the shop on their commute home from work, or on their way back from a ride...just to say hi and chat.
Step 7: You claim each other as 'friends' on various social media sites and 'like' each other's photos.
Step 8: They come in again and suggest that maybe you should hang out outside of work. You talk about this potentially happening for the next few weeks or months.
Step 9: You finally find a time to hang out. You go on a bike ride together and spill your guts to one another. (There's something about a good, long ride that really opens you up and allows you to go deep. Know what I mean?) Or maybe you grab a drink. Or maybe you go out for pizza with your partners in tow.
Step 10: They continue to come in the shop and continue to be a customer, but also something far beyond that. You see them at the shop, and equally outside of it. When people ask you how you met, you both reply "bike stuff".
Come to think of it, this isn't too dissimilar from making friends as an adult in general.
p.s. Yeah, I run into a lot (a lot, a lot) of customers at the grocery store.