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Board buddies attract youth with new skate shop in Tigard

(Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer living in Tigard. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blogspot.com .)

For Marek Litinsky, 27, life revolves around two things: Family and skateboarding.

Originally from the Czech Republic, he met his wife, Siggy, when she was studying abroad. When it was time for her to return to Oregon, he decided to move, too. They've now been married for three-and-a-half years, have a son, Radek, 1, and live in Portland.

'My wife wanted a Czech name,' he explains. 'It means 'Adviser.''

His friend Chris, who chooses to be referred to as Chris the Volunteer, points out that at Tigard's Lab 33 skateboard shop on Main Street, that's exactly what Litinsky is: An adviser.

'I'm on the (Lab 33) board,' he says, which he explains entails giving input about everything from merchandising to product planning to display decisions.

Litinsky jokingly refers to himself as a co-owner, but Chris the Volunteer sets the record straight: The store has two owners (brothers Sean and Chad Wanderscheid), one volunteer (Chris) and one 'board member' (Litinsky).

Chris the Volunteer, also from Portland, has been skateboarding since he was 7 or 8 years old. For Litinsky, skating wasn't an immediate interest.

'I had a skateboard at home,' Litinsky says, 'but I never knew what it was for!'

He said he first tried to push it on his knees, then much later figured out 'it was good to be standing on that thing. That's what I've been doing ever since.'

About four years ago, he met Chris the Volunteer while skating on Burnside. The two befriended each other and now hang out often, mostly either at Lab 33 or various skate parks. Some of their adventures are more memorable than others. For example, the road trip down to Klamath Falls (hometown of the Wanderscheids).

'I had to go to court there because of trespassing,' Litinsky says. 'I was in a skate park at 2 in the morning, which I guess was very illegal.'

Back in Portland, he keeps out of trouble. He appreciates the new Tigard skate park because of its 'unique design and the way it was made - it was made by riders who actually skate.'

And fatherhood, he admits, has calmed him down. Now that he's a dad, 'I'm slightly more careful,' he says.

Meanwhile, for Chris the Volunteer, the skate shop is his family. Sean and Chad, both from Tigard, are his cousins. They brought him on board as the skating expert, the one who would know what gear, which companies and what products to carry.

After running a skate shop in California and watching its demise, Chris was reluctant to get too involved with this venture: Hence him signing on as a volunteer, rather than owner.

Still, he takes his role as the resident skater seriously.

'If they're going to be opening a business so close to a skate park, it better be good, you know?' he says, explaining his reason for joining the endeavor.

And, according to its customers, Lab 33 is good.

'It's totally awesome!' a young boy, barely taller than the counter, chimes in during the interview.

Chris points out that this customer fits their target demographic to a T: 7 to 17-year-olds, mostly male, and their dads. He notes, happily, that lately the number of girls and moms has been rising, too.

Litinsky and Chris concur that the Christmas season was good for the shop, but now it is heading into slower, quieter months.

Chad, however, remains upbeat. This is the first business he's been involved with, he says, that didn't go into negative numbers in its first month. For only being around for four months, the store is doing remarkably well.

The family is not in the business for the money: This much is evident when both Chris and Chad allow gentle negotiations from their young customers.

'Well, how much do you have?' Chad asks one youngster, wanting to buy an energy drink.

The boy has fifty cents in his possession. Fifty cents: Sold.

Chris says that Chad, who has five kids, saw a need for a place like this in the community. When Chad is not working in his carpet business and Sean is not working at Les Schwab, they both come down to the store, clocking in hours they never pay themselves for.

Everyone is quick to point out the amount of teamwork that goes into running a business. Naming the place, Chad says, was an incredible group effort. Originally going to be called C and C Skate, the name morphed into Labyrinth. Knowing they'd be plagued by spelling errors, they shortened this to Lab. Chad says they were drawn to 3, a biblical number representing God's promise. They finally agreed on Lab 33.

Lab 33 is often populated by children who come to hang out; Chad says this is just how they envisioned it. They want the store to not only be a place to buy gear, but also somewhere to cool down after a hot summer day at the skate park or warm up after a cold winter day. They encourage kids to pop in and grab an energy drink or linger for a while, watching a skate movie and talking to other skaters.

'It's kind of a place to hang out,' Chad says. 'It's all about building people.'

Visit Lab 33 at 12460 S.W. Main Street in Tigard, or call 503-430-8363.