Volume 74, Number 48 | April 06 - 12 , 2005

Shifting gears, Angels to close shop, focus on Web

By Mary Reinholz

Villager photo by Josh Argyle
The Hells Angels Cyclewear shop on St. Mark’s Pl. has been open only sporadically lately, and is planned to close for good sometime soon.
A realtor’s sign in the window of an East Village clothing boutique operated by the New York City Hells Angels and their associates for two years announces that the store on 102 St. Mark’s Pl. is up for rent, an apparent victim of gentrification in a once gritty neighborhood.

The outlaw bikers, whose headquarters are on E. Third St., have long sold T-shirts, hats and Angel collectibles online through links in their Web site, www.bigredmachine.com. A new Web site is under construction to sell merchandise left over when the store closes down, said a store manager last week who identified herself only as Mimi.

She said the store, called Cyclewear, would remain open for an unspecified time to sell merchandise to walk-in customers, like $60 leather jackets, pants, skirts and various biker paraphernalia. Mimi said a woman named Amy owned the actual space, but efforts to reach Amy were fruitless.

“I heard that most of their business is online and they decided it made no sense to keep the store open,” said Lucas Lin, 37, owner of the Dumpling Man, a Chinese food bar a couple of doors down from the Angels’ store. Lin noted the neighborhood has changed since he arrived eight months ago. Now, he said, “I almost never see bikers on this block.” A bookstore clerk across the street said he didn’t even know the Angels were running the boutique.

Earlier last month, peering at products displayed in the store window after the sixth annual Hells Angels’ St. Patrick’s Day Party at Don Hill’s in Hudson Sq. on March 13, one could see some key chains with a smattering of naughty epithets. But, for the most part, the Angels’ outlet seemed like a polished operation, presumably catering to weekend road warriors and upscale biker babes, bearing the legend “N.Y.C. Route 666” above the door.

Inside, a comely blonde stood behind the counter filled with silver jewelry and belts. Eye-catching punk-style purses for the ladies, shaped like bustiers, hung nearby. “Street Justice,” a memoir by Chuck Zito, the New York Angels’ former president and body guard to celebrities, was on sale, but nothing by the late Hunter S. Thompson whose 1966 seminal book, “Hell’s Angels,” turned the Northern California clubs into the stuff of legend.

The blonde, who declined to give her name, said the New York City Angels’ store opened in the summer of 2003. She claimed it would be closing because business had not been particularly good and acknowledged that rents “anywhere Downtown” are steep.

Asked if she’d allow a photo of her to be taken amid the orange hooded Harley Davidson sweatshirts, aviator shades and other activewear, some from an outfit called Crime, Inc., an online supplier, she politely demurred, saying of the Angels, “I don’t think they’d want that.”

A male customer in his early 40s, dressed in preppy duds, said nothing. But as a Villager reporter walked outside with her camera to the public sidewalk and starting taking photos, he quickly exited the store, crossing his face with his hands as if he were on a perp walk and flashing an embarrassed smile as if to say, “Do you get the message?”

You betcha. You don’t mess with the Angels or speak about them to strangers like this wandering reporter who, after all, could have been a cop. Their detractors in law enforcement say they are violence-prone bad boys who traffic in drugs and other racketeering and engage in bloody turf wars with rival bikers. Supporters claim they are misunderstood rebels and free spirits who like to party and ride their motorcycles.

“They like their privacy,” said attorney Ron Kuby, who noted he has represented “individuals” from the Hells Angels club but not the club as an entity.

Still, Kuby helped the New York City Hells Angels win about $200,000 from the city in 2001 to settle a lawsuit he filed in Manhattan federal court claiming their civil rights had been violated when three dozen police broke into the bikers’ six-story clubhouse looking for suspects in a beating at a local bar without a search warrant on April 29, 2000. Seven club members were detained and released but no charges were filed.

The settlement marked the second time in three years that former Mayor Rudolph Guiliani’s administration had to cough up money for the Angels because of civil rights violations: The city paid them $565,000, including lawyers’ fees, in 1999 after cops raided their clubhouse in 1998 looking for a stolen motorcycle, and arrested 14 people. Most charges were dropped. Police had a search warrant but only for the first floor, according to newspaper reports.

“Apparently, the mayor is determined to buy each and every Hells Angel a new motorcycle before leaving office,” Kuby told a Daily News reporter at the time. The New York Police Department had no immediate comment last week about any other investigations into the Angels.

The Manhattan biker group, also known as the Third Street Crew, is part of a worldwide Angels network of about 2,200 members. Like other chapters, it peddles “support merchandise” online, some clearly capitalizing on their images as wild men on motorcycles who make motorists move aside while they pass in formation “like a burst of dirty thunder,” to quote Dr. Thompson. (A $2 sticker reads “Filthy Animal,” while one selling for $3 exhorts: “Support New York City’s Baddest.”)

These New York Angels, who plainly do not lack gallows humor, also warn from their berth in cyberspace that anyone who uses the club’s famous Deathhead logo of a winged skull and the registered trademark of the “Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation” should seriously consider the consequences: “Should we find you using any of these we will hunt you down and hurt you.”

Last time this reporter visited the store, all the “official” Hells Angels T-shirts had been removed from a wall by club members in anticipation of the closing, said Mimi, who added that she didn’t know enough about the Angels to disclose further details about their business dealings. One of two burly middle-aged men who had been looking at leather jackets said, “We don’t know nothin.’”

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