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DeKalb unicyclist tries to turn hobby into business

Published: Monday, July 29, 2013 2:04 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 10:53 p.m. CDT
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Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Brian O'Connor of DeKalb rides his unicycle at the Frank Van Buer Plaza in downtown DeKalb, Ill. Wednesday, July 24, 2013. O'Connor is starting a new business, One Wheel Promotions, which will have him riding on his unicycle and advertising for local businesses.
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Brian O'Connor of DeKalb rides his unicycle at the Frank Van Buer Plaza in downtown DeKalb, Ill. Wednesday, July 24, 2013. O'Connor is starting a new business, One Wheel Promotions, which will have him riding on his unicycle and advertising for local businesses.

DeKALB – It's hard for Brian O'Connor to not notice people when he rides his unicycle, because they notice him.

O'Connor, 22, is hoping local businesses will want to use the natural attraction of a unicycle to advertise with him. The name of his new business: One Wheel Promotions.

"I can't leave my house and go three blocks without someone staring at me or people asking questions," O'Connor said. "There's definite interest in it, so I figure I could channel that to actually help some of the businesses in the community, and help myself."

O'Connor could wear a local store's apparel, but he's declining to wear a costume, like a giant hot dog.

"Word of mouth advertising - that's a big thing, too," O'Connor said. "If people see me, stop me and talk to me. Once word of this gets around, people are going to want to know: 'Hey, what are the specials at the bar this week?' 'Who's playing at Otto's?'"

O'Connor said he is talking with businesses in DeKalb about advertising with them, but he hasn't finalized anything yet. He said he would tailor each promotion for each client, but declined to reveal his rates.

O'Connor could be violating DeKalb's sign code, which prohibit businesses from using moving signs from advertising. City officials have previously stated that sign dancers and a mechanical moving mannequin violate the ordinance.

O'Connor has contacted his lawyer about the ordinance in DeKalb. He said the ordinance is in place to prevent signs from distracting motorists, but his advertising will not be geared to them.

"That's really a separate issue," O'Connor said. "If it's a problem, it's a problem. I'll deal with it as it comes up."

DeKalb City Attorney Dean Frieders said each instance of a moving sign would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Representatives of Moxie, 230 E. Lincoln Highway, would be open to advertising like that, said store manager Courtney Wilson. Managers would look into it, as they've never heard of something like that.

"It would be something we would consider, based on how much it costs," Wilson said.

Alex Nerad, the executive director of the Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. 2nd St., agreed that advertising via unicycling was an interesting idea. However, he couldn't say if someone like O'Connor would be able to reach students at Northern Illinois University.

"The biggest thing we're always working on is reaching out to the NIU students," Nerad said. "So we're interested in new, fun ways to reach the NIU audience and let them know about the fun stuff going on here."

Both Nerad and Wilson said they have not been contacted by O'Connor for advertising with him.

Born and raised in DeKalb, O'Connor began learning how to ride a unicycle when he was 14 years old at his mother's suggestion.

"It wasn't really something I had in mind at the time, but the opportunity came up and I tried it and I liked it," O'Connor said.

Even though he's been unicycling since 2005, O'Connor said he has a lot to learn about it. He can handle stairs and ledges, but there are other riders who ride mountain bike trails or compete in races.

"It takes a lot of time, a lot of practice," O'Connor said. "You really got to be dedicated to do it. Sometimes it can be a little bit scary."

Even with his experience, O'Connor faces the constant risk of injury. He said he was recovering from a sprained ankle after he made a hard landing going down a staircase at NIU.

O'Connor said he would limit his activities when he's promoting a client's business, as neither he nor the client would want that particular liability.

At this point, O'Connor is the only person in One Wheel Promotions, but he said he's open to working with other people.

"It doesn't even have to be unicyclists," O'Connor said. "Just people who can garner a lot of attention and want to do something beneficial for the community."

For more information, contact O'Connor at btoconnor@mac.com or call 815-901-4784. Or go onto Facebook and search for One Wheel Promotions.

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