Erik Tonkin in front of his
new location on SE 13th Ave.
(Photos © J. Maus)
A strong indication of bicycling’s health in Portland is the success and number of local bike shops. In the last year, there seems to be not just more bike shops, but expansions by existing ones too. Below I’ll share a report about two local shops that have experienced growth and have had to relocate to accomodate it.
Sellwood Cycle Repair and North Portland Bike Works might be on opposite sides of town, but they have a lot in common. Both shops have been around for a while (in Portland terms at least) — Sellwood for 15 years and Bike Works for nine. Both shops are independently owned and have built a strong loyal following of customers. True “mom and pop” shops, owners of both stores are still highly involved in daily operations and still turn wrenches and help customers on a daily basis.
Another thing Sellwood and Bike Works have in common: a recent move to a much larger location due to growth that had them bursting at the seams.
For Sellwood owner Erik Tonkin, the recent move was a matter of survival. “We were suffocating in the old space, we couldn’t grow,” he told me during a recent chat outside his bustling shop, “It was change or die.” Tonkin’s new space — at the busy corner of SE 13th and Miller on Sellwood’s main drag — is five times larger than the old one.
Tonkin said he was able to buy the entire building (and spend a year making renovations) without incurring any debt. “We have had steady growth every year we’ve been in business, but the last five years have been incredible… I’ve doubled my business in the last five years.” After pouring all his profits back into the business, Tonkin was in a good position to buy and the market was just right. “It was a lot of money for me,” he said, “But it was worth it.”
“I’ve doubled my business in the last five years.”
— Erik Tonkin
The secret to success for Sellwood has been to focus on service/repair, be the shop for Kona Bicycles (they were the top grossing Kona dealer in all of North America in 2010), do a huge cyclocross business (Tonkin is a well known professional racer and ‘cross roots run very deep at the shop), and sell a lot of high-quality used bikes (something Sellwood has a very good reputation for).
Another shop that has found a niche and then leveraged it for success is North Portland Bike Works. After nine years on N. Mississippi Avenue, they have just opened up in a brand new space on the southeast corner of N Shaver and Mississippi (just a block north of the old place).
Bike Works is a non-profit and has all the trappings of a true community bike shop — service with a smile, plenty of affordable city bikes (they sell Linus and Jamis bikes as quick as they can stock them), lots of urban riding accessories on the floor, and drop-in repair classes.
Co-director Alex McFarland says they had outgrown their old space. “We weren’t actively looking, but a good space like this is hard to find.” Bike Works’ new location is not just 300 square feet larger, it’s beautiful. Hardwood floors and lots of natural light look out onto an always busy and vibrant corner.
“We’re really excited to be here, everyone’s response has been very positive.” (While I chatted with Alex, several customers complimented him on the new space.)
McFarland says the growth of his business mirrors the growth of Mississippi street itself. Like other areas of North and Northeast Portland, Mississippi has seen massive development in the last five years. “Our business has increased every year and we’ve grown with the street. Absolutely.”
There are now popular shops, bars, cafes and boutiques all the way from Skidmore to Fremont. For McFarland, offering the community a bike shop is a healthy thing for the street. “We feel good about our success because we’re a service business,” he says, “not just another place to get dinner or drinks.”
The success and expansion of these two shops is far from the exception in Portland. Clever Cycles on SE Hawthorne also recently expanded, as has Athlete’s Lounge in Northwest Portland. In a time when there’s so much negative economic news, it’s great to report about healthy local businesses serving a market that just continues to roll along.