29 Sep Talking Shop
Shoreline of Tahoe owner Bob Daly built a business—but not before almost losing it all
Bob Daly walks into the Mott Canyon Tavern & Grill looking a little frazzled. He’s wearing a stained black shirt and smudged gray shorts. His forehead has a slick layer of sweat. He’s late for our interview.
“I’m sorry,” Daly says. “I just had to go mountain biking.”
Daly orders a large black coffee, and we walk next door to Shoreline of Tahoe, his South Shore retail shop of more than 30 years. The 57-year-old plops down on a worn wooden bench in a corner that overlooks lines of shiny full-suspension mountain bikes, walls of snowboards and racks of colorful outerwear. This is Daly’s domain. He’s spent decades in this spot with his crew of staff, outfitting Lake Tahoe visitors and locals to chase powder and dirt.
The shop has become part of his identity. It has shown him success and failure. From within the paneled walls, he’s seen the rise and fall of trends and the growth of mountain sports. He’s met and lost friends. He’s stayed up all night, filling orders. He’s expanded, and he’s almost gone bankrupt. He found God. He met his wife. He’s pondered what exactly it is that he sells. Now nearing retirement, Daly is looking back on what’s most meaningful in his life.
“There was a crossroad in my life where my worldview completely changed,” he says, taking a sip of his coffee. “I started to look at everything differently.”
Bob Daly performs an inverted trick during a show at Caesars Tahoe, photo by Earl Zeller
Moving to Tahoe
Daly grew up skiing the icy hills of Minnesota. The youngest of five children, he spent summers waterskiing and fishing. When the snow fell, he’d head up to the local mountain and work on his freestyle skiing technique. He became the “rebel” of the family, focusing on his aerial form rather than school. It wasn’t easy to be a Midwest freestyler, though.
“We’d buy a season pass for $45 and ski every night after school,” Daly says. “I ruptured my kidney trying backflips when it was 28 below zero. You don’t wait for ski patrol when it’s that cold. Your skin begins to freeze.”
The local mountain closed when Daly was in his senior year of high school. He felt like he lost part of his identity. In January 1981, he headed to Lake Tahoe to visit a skier friend. It was a drought year and the mountains hadn’t even opened. But the snow was falling when he arrived.
“The very next day, I got a job working at the bottom of Gunbarrel,” Daly says, referring to Heavenly’s famed double-diamond moguls run. “I drove in on the season opener.”
Daly began to establish himself in the Tahoe moguls scene. He made friends with some of the local heavy-hitters like Yale Spina and George Henry. Though he didn’t stand out in competitions, Daly did book a few notable exhibitions. He and several other Tahoe skiers performed during the halftime show of a San Francisco 49ers game, launching flips on trampolines and into crash pads. Still, these events weren’t enough to sustain his dream of a professional career.
“I started partying and hanging with a posse here. I started hitting the mogul field and doing what I could to prove myself,” Daly says. “Although I dominated that small hill in Minnesota, and I was respectable here in Tahoe, I realized it was going to take another 10 years to get to where I really wanted to be.”
In the summers, Daly taught windsurfing in Kings Beach. At night, he frequented the local nightclubs, meeting people and fashioning ideas. In 1983, he and a partner started a scooter rental business on the North Shore, which morphed into windsurf gear sales and shifted again to skateboarding. In 1985, he and his partner moved their business to the South Shore, naming it Shoreline of Tahoe. They rented a 900-square-foot strip mall space on Kingsbury Grade in Stateline and stocked a small inventory of ski gear and skateboards. The Tahoe skate scene was exploding, and Daly was suddenly at the center.
The shop often sponsored events and competitions. The rowdy street-skating trend of the mid-1980s was in full swing. Daly pushed his Tahoe skaters to new levels, dropping old cars and random obstacles into his competition courses. The skaters ate it up, and high-profile Tahoe athletes like the famously Mohawked Glen Plake and Shaun Palmer would drop by for raucous sessions.
“Everybody gravitated to Shoreline because Bob was the real deal,” says Chris Brackett, owner of South Tahoe Standup Paddle, who was at many of those early skate sessions. “He’d have all these kids skating, and we’d push each other. I still have calcium deposits in my hip from those launch ramps.”
Shoreline of Tahoe, shown on opening day in November 1985, opened in a 900-square-foot space on Kingsbury Grade, courtesy photo
Daly’s identity began to change. Rather than chase the top spot on the mountain, he poured himself into his business. He worked hard and played hard. His drug and alcohol use started to get out of hand. He was clipping tickets at the resorts and staying out all night.
“I didn’t care if I lived or died,” Daly says. “I was going to lose my house, my wife, my business. It was very costly.”
As we talk, Daly’s wife, Jackie, pops her head in the Shoreline door and quickly disappears. The couple met at a Round Hill nightclub in the 1980s. Jackie has been a quiet force in the shop. With her accounting prowess, she’s saved Shoreline from financial calamities more than once.
“My wife Jackie is brilliant and creative,” Daly says. “Behind every good man is a better woman. I have to give her credit for not allowing us to go bankrupt 10 times over.”
On one occasion, Daly demolished half the shop so he could build a skateboard mini-ramp inside. Though the halfpipe was good for skate practice, it was hard on the books. That year was one of their least profitable on record. It was Jackie who suggested the ramp might be eating into their bottom line.
“That was one of the things that pretty much bankrupted us,” Jackie says. “That ramp scared all the paying customers away. We barely survived that.”
It was also Jackie who forced Daly to recover from his vices. When he got out of control, she threatened divorce. She wouldn’t let him return home until he went to treatment. It was at this point that Daly found God.
After getting kicked out of rehab in Reno, the then-29-year-old shop owner and new dad had to find a way to stay clean. Daly walked into Tahoe Community Church on Kingsbury Grade and has been going back ever since.
“The love there just overwhelmed us. It’s just amazing the amount of love we were shown from total strangers,” Daly says, tears welling in the corners of his eyes. “I can hardly not cry thinking about it. That was the lynchpin.”
Bob Daly and wife Jackie at their Shoreline of Tahoe shop, photo by Dylan Silver
The Rise of Snowboarding
Through the late 1980s and ’90s, snowboarding was undergoing a meteoric rise in popularity. The sport was exploding and everyone wanted gear. Daly started buying every brand that was available. He was the first Lake Tahoe distributor for Sims Snowboards, the biggest company at the time. He picked up local brands like West Shore Snowboards and Avalanche Snowboards, too.
“Bob was very responsive to getting snowboards stocked in his shops,” says Earl Zeller, co-founder and former chief designer for Avalanche Snowboards.
After stints at Avalanche and at International Snowboard Magazine in San Francisco, Zeller returned to Tahoe and got a job at Shoreline. He remembers Daly encouraging his snowboard team to practice tricks on the trampoline. He also recalls how busy the shop was.
“I remember coming home every day with metal slivers in my hands from sharpening skis and snowboards,” he says.
Daly signed on to sell Burton Snowboards. As the brand blew up, he was the top distributor, until a North Lake Tahoe shop out-bought his inventory. Nonetheless, he kept pursuing new retail ideas. Daly took Shoreline online. He was the first ski shop in the Tahoe Basin to move to Internet sales. His customer base was now global, and his staff was pulling all-nighters to fill orders.
“All of our Internet savvy was just sales clerks learning what they could,” Daly says. “I always tried to keep my staff busy. It wasn’t a typical retail job where you just punch a clock and wait for customers to walk in. We always had other horizons we wanted to conquer.”
The endless potential for sales was a pitfall for some shops. A lot of other businesses overshot in their inventory orders and couldn’t recover, Daly says. He stocked Shoreline conservatively and grew steadily, eventually expanding the 900-square-foot original shop to over 4,000 square feet and opening two other locations. He still manages all three shops.
Daly attributes his success to being open-minded. Many of the Tahoe ski shops thought snowboarding was a fad that would eventually go away, he says. Skier-snowboarder rivalry was permeating mountain culture across the country. Daly found it amusing. His antagonistic marketing slogans, inked on T-shirts and bumper stickers, often played with the conflict. These products may have resulted in a few dented cars and on-hill yelling matches, but Daly laughs it off now.
“Seriously, we’re talking about what toy you play with in the sandbox,” he says. “But there was this huge animosity.”
Bob Daly entertains the crowd above a trampoline at Candlestick Park during a San Francisco 49ers halftime show in the early days of snowboarding, photo by Earl Zeller
As the snowboarding boom leveled off in the late 2000s, Daly began to offer other sporting goods. He frequently tried new products and brands, gauging their potential for longevity. He brought in ski, snowboard and bike rentals. He experimented with trends like kendama, paintball, snakeboarding, rollerblading and electric skateboards. But he wasn’t always on top of every new outdoors movement. Daly gives Shoreline’s sluggishness to catch on to the mountain bike craze as an example and credits another South Shore shop owner, Gary Bell, with pioneering the Tahoe mountain bike scene and many of the area’s trails in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Perhaps what’s more recognizable about Shoreline than the products it carries is the way Daly has marketed the shop. He was one of the first to offer video product reviews on YouTube. His silly spoof videos were half commercial, half comedy. In one, he nearly accidentally stabbed a model with a samurai sword. His lighthearted personality shows through, and it’s this carefree charm that’s come to characterize Shoreline. Daly has never tried too hard to fit in with the brand-obsessed crowd he often sells to.
“I’m a short, fat, bald guy. I never fit the part,” Daly says with a laugh. “I got credited for being cool because I didn’t try. One of our first shirt logos said, ‘Shoreline of Tahoe is no longer cool.’”
Cool or not, Daly still loves the sports that his shop represents. In the winter, he chases powder along Heavenly’s ridges. In the summer, he puts wheels to dirt on the South Shore’s many mountain biking trails. He cares about the issues that affect recreation in the area and the issues that can affect athletes.
A few days after our interview at Shoreline, Daly ministers to a group at the Tahoe Community Church during the bimonthly food pantry. He talks about identity. Daly can relate to the dozen or so people in the audience. Some of those who are there for the free food are former athletes who got so caught up in their desire to be the best that they were crushed when the dream didn’t work out, he says. Some of them are visibly intoxicated.
“I had to work to be a part of the ski posse. My membership and my identity was always in question because I wasn’t as good as I needed to be,” Daly says. “This is an age-old story of multiple South Lake Tahoe individuals who have to go through an identity crisis, many of whom move out of town or the drugs and alcohol take over and they end up at my food pantry. These are the people I relate to—the has-been athletes.”
Daly is now considering selling the original shop to one of his longtime managers. In retirement, he’d like to get more involved with his church. He’d like to see his three daughters more, two of whom are missionaries working overseas.
Looking back on his career, Daly says when he started to focus on his relationships with his family and his religion is when he and the shop started to succeed. But he’ll always have a passion for the sports he supports at Shoreline.
“If you only pursue your own happiness and pleasure, you will eventually walk away from your relationships,” he says. “I’ll always care about skiing and snowboarding because it’s part of who I am.”
Dylan Silver is a South Lake Tahoe–based writer and photographer.