Photos by Will Hawkins
Years ago, when Siren Skate Shop owner Mike Merritt was looking to buy some custom-built skateboards for his three sons, he of course made the obligatory trip to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, where surf and skate shops are about as abundant as 7-Elevens. Recognizing the need for something similar in the north side of Norfolk, Merritt seized the opportunity and opened Siren Skate Shop in 2017.
Besides skateboards, the shop specializes in roller skates, scooters and bicycles. As a young man, Merritt was a bit of a “skater kid” himself and later became a cycling enthusiast and daily bike commute—so he certainly knows firsthand the impact that a superior setup has on one’s experience and enjoyment. His intent was to provide a boutique, brick-and-mortar business that offers a level of quality you won’t find in big-box stores, and a level of service you can’t get from an online vendor.
A 20-year Navy veteran, Merritt was working in human resources as a federal civilian when he opened the shop. After two years in operation, he left his desk job to work full-time for himself. Today he runs the business with the help of a couple employees and his youngest son, now 14, who comes in and fixes bikes after school.
Located directly across the street from Northside skatepark, in a brick-faced building it shares with an appliance warehouse, Siren Skate Shop is both a retail space and a repair shop.
As Merritt explains, “We’re not just a retail store, we’re a service business. It’s a balance of selling things and fixing things.” His is a one-stop shop, offering everything from assembly to diagnosis to education, where customers can get their rides tuned up and “dialed in”—meaning customized and micro-adjusted to the exact fit and functionality for peak performance.
The front half of the shop is the retail side, which carries just about everything you could possibly need to build and trick out your rig—a colorful array of pedals, bike grips, trucks, wheels, kneepads, helmets, grip tape and more. Listless parents and spouses will appreciate the comfy red couch inviting them to relax while their loved ones peruse racks of apparel and accessories. They will likely be greeted by Moxie, an affectionate Burmese cat whose sister, Siren, watches from one of the two picture windows looking out onto Tidewater Drive.
As an independent, small business owner, Merritt does his best to source a lot of the store’s goods locally and responsibly, with T-shirts and hoodies screen printed by Prince Ink in downtown Norfolk, stickers printed by Colley Avenue Copies in Ghent and decks from Eastern Skateboard Supply in North Carolina.
Behind the counter and through an open doorway is the back half of the store—Merritt’s workshop. The industrial space is lined with tools and shiny chrome parts on every wall and surface, with a row of bike tires hanging from the ceiling. Though utilitarian, the space has the wonderful feel of Santa’s workshop, or the Wash and Brush Up Co. in Emerald City, where Tin Man’s rusty framework is repaired to brand-new and Dorothy requests they dye her eyes to match her gown. This, one can easily see, is where the magic happens.
On the workbench sits an eye-popping pair of custom-designed Vans high-top sneakers mounted to roller-skates. Seeing these, it’s no wonder Siren Skate Shop is a favorite among everyone from kids to adults, amateurs to pros, jam-dancing rink skaters to street-, park- and bowl-skaters, folks who have taken up individual sports during the pandemic to the seasoned and highly competitive Dominion Derby Girls. What this place provides is not just excellence, but originality and unbridled fun.