Terry Vo is still repairing bicycles at the Kensington Shopping Center, despite an April 28 fire there that destroyed his successful store of eight years.
Vo, a Vietnamese businessman who came to the United States in 1975, has simply set up shop in his station wagon in the parking lot outside the ruined store.
On a recent hot afternoon, Vo adjusted the brakes on a young girl's bicycle, which he had attached, upside down, to the front grill of the car.
Plastic silverware trays and metal baking pans containing Vo's tools fanned out across a cloth covering the hood of the rust-colored 1978 Ford wagon. The top of the car was reserved for several dozen spare bicycle tires. In the front seat, a cardboard box contained records and receipts. And the back was a jumble of spare parts.
"I try to hang on every day," said Vo, a short, compact man of 58 wearing black-rimmed glasses and a black biking helmet. He wiped his hands on a greasy blue rag as he talked.
"It is a very long process to get back in business," he said. "But I like my work and I have a lot of customers who want me to go on fixing their bikes."
The fire started in a light fixture in Vo's store, Kensington Central Bicycle shop, and caused an estimated $380,000 in damages there -- an amount that Vo's meager insurance does not begin to cover, he said.
Although Vo was able to rescue most of his customers' bikes from his burning shop, he lost about 50 new bicycles and all of his repair parts. Several surrounding stores at the shopping center in the 10500 block of Connecticut Avenue were also damaged, and several remain boarded up.
This is not the first time that Vo has been forced to start over. He built one of the first steel factories in Vietnam, he said, employing more than 1,000 workers at one time, but "we lost everything in the war."
In Kensington, Vo had developed a loyal clientele who delighted in his willingness to work on bicycles late into the night. He apparently did not lose their business when he lost his shop. During a half-hour conversation with a visitor, Vo attended to two customers -- one who inquired about the progress of the repairs on his bike, and another who bought a new seat.
Vo said he will relocate, rather than rebuild his old store, but he said he is not sure if he can find anything affordable.
While the weeks since the fire have been difficult, there have been a few bright moments. Last week, Vo -- a father of eight children ages 12 to 26 -- attended the graduation of a daughter, Dieu-Thu Vo, 21, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is bound for medical school at Cornell University, where her older sister is enrolled. Among his older children, Vo has a son at Yale University.
"They work hard," he said. "They never quit."
Apparently, neither does he. As his customers departed, Vo reminded them of an upcoming event.
"Open house, right here," he said, pointing to the car and the parking lot. "Next Saturday and Sunday. Please come."