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Growing demand, sales push bike shop expansions

Posted by on August 19th, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Sellwood Cycle Repair new location-12-11

Sellwood Cycle Repair owner
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.

Sellwood’s new location has lots of foot traffic.

Tonkin owns the whole building, and leases a space to C-Velo Performance Fitness Cycling Studio on the second floor.

Sellwood Cycle Repair new location-5-4

A strong focus on service (both of bikes and in a personal, customer sense) has helped Sellwood’s bottom line.

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).

The showroom area is clean and well-lit.

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.

North Portland Bikeworks new location-6-5

Shop Co-Director Alex McFarland has been helping customers for nine years.

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.

A larger service area will allow McFarland to have more community programs.

“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.

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24 thoughts on “Growing demand, sales push bike shop expansions”

  1. Avatar the "other" steph says:

    So exciting! I have been in CCC and NoPo Bike Works recently, and they’re awesome. Don’t forget Universal Cycles new beautiful and expanded digs on Ankeny.

    1. Avatar sore bore says:

      Sellwood… local independent bicycle shop. Awesome.
      Universal Cycyles…interwebbie mail order with will call office and horrible phone manners. Not so awesome, for me at least.

      1. Avatar Joseph E says:

        Universal Cycles may be primarily a large online retailer, but they are based in Portland. It’s nice to have those warehouse jobs in town. And their retail store, with free shipping to the local store and the online price-match guarantee, is one of the best deals in the country.

        1. Avatar sore bore says:

          Gosh Joe, I guess you could take your freshly purchased parts from UC to Sellwood and have them install them for you. Hate to sound trite, just an old school IBD employee venting. sorry. peace out, yo!

          1. Avatar no fan of hypocrasy says:

            Or you could just have the UC in-store service staff install them there… like you would at any other bike shop. Who cares if they were born out of a web-only business model. They’ve also agreed to pony up 50 grand towards Forest Park trails should they ever be opened up to bikes in any significant way.

            Personally I hate going to Retail brick’n’mortar for just parts. Who really wants to pay premium prices for poor selection. Last time I had service done at BG, i couldn’t beleive how hard the service tech was trying to sell me on uneeded parts.

  2. Avatar q`Tzal says:

    Transportation options that don’t require personal debt is a growth industry.
    Go Bikes!

  3. Avatar Racer X says:

    Now for a wet blanket opinion…I have visited the new Sellwood shop – it is very nice and slick…but I liked the old shop with its piles of parts and NW style wood & copper bike display racks. Even with the larger space – I found less 2nd hand parts to look over and actually walked out without buying anything! That was a rarity for my visits. ;-(

    I hope now that the move is done they will be building up their stock of 2nd hand parts etc.

  4. Avatar Sean says:

    Sellwood Cycle Repair feels like a real, down-to-earth bike shop. Everyone is friendly and takes the time to help. I purchased a Kona Honky Tonk (frame designed by Erik) there and always go back to them for anything I need for the bike (which I love dearly!).

  5. Avatar Rob says:

    I’ve been going to Sellwood Cycles for a dozen years now and it’s great to see Eric take it to the next level while still keeping that down-to-earth touch. Racer X, I know what you mean about the used parts. I plan on bringing them some soon, so check back (need a 1986 Ofmega rear der. – never used?).

  6. Sellwood builds outstanding wheels, stands by them, and will take on all funky hubs. Nice service ethic, too.

    Ditto for Sugar [the artist formerly known as Epic] Wheelworks … also recently expanded.

  7. Avatar Jessica Roberts says:

    Love to hear that Erik and Alex, two of the nicest and most hard-working longtime bike shop owners, are seeing their business thrive even in a down market. Best of luck to both Sellwood and NoPo’s new locations.

  8. Avatar kittens says:

    The expansion of local bike retail is truly amazing in light of the horrible economy. Imagine when it improves!

  9. Avatar Peter Koonce says:

    Portland is fortunate to have so many great bike shops. There should be a ride that hits the best of them. Sellwood Cycle Repair is a great neighborhood shop and am lucky to live nearby. Support your neighborhood shop!

  10. JM: One point that you missed – at least in terms of the Sellwood Cycle part of the story. Tonkin invested in a building that was largely a dead spot along Sellwood’s “Main Street” (SE 13th). He took an underutilized and under-maintained building that sold industrial cleaning supplies (and rarely to walk-in customers) and put in a highly-active use that greatly enhances the vibrancy of a ped- and bike-friendly neighborhood. His expansion is great for him and his staff, but it’s also great for the Sellwood neighborhood. -MCA.

  11. Would love to have a bike shop in downtown Lents, if any prospective shop-openers are reading this… 🙂

    1. Avatar VTRC says:

      I know it’s not quite Lents but the little shop that’s across from Mt. Scott Community Center always treated me really well.

  12. Avatar sunningotter says:

    Would love to have a bike shop in downtown Lents, if any prospective shop-openers are reading this…

    Try Backpedal Cycleworks, SE 72nd and Harold…

    1. Dig that place, but mostly I just want something… ANYTHING… successful to show up in my neighborhood. Seems like any day now Ryan’s gonna shut down Lents Commons coffee shop, and then all we’ll have is a couple rad Mexican food joints.

      1. Avatar Cora Potter says:

        Yeah- I’m really surprised that we don’t have a bike shop at Lents Town Center. The junction of the Springwater and the 205 MUP is just a few blocks away, so it seems like a no-brainer. You could do sales, repairs and rentals from that location. How awesome would it be to take the MAX to Lents Town Center, eat some rad Mexican food and then rent one of those goofy carriage bikes or a tandem and pedal off your burrito on the Springwater?

  13. Avatar Brad Ross says:

    Erik, I don’t care what everybody is saying now. You guys are still a bunch of jerks. 🙂

  14. Avatar commuter says:

    What makes Sellwood stand out amoung other bike shops is that I know I can always get a “straight answer” there. They don’t try to sell you the latest and greatest bling. They are focused on giving you a good product within your budget. The mechanics there know their stuff. I’m happy to see this local shop grow.

  15. Avatar Bob_M says:

    I was buying parts and breaking bikes from Sellwood ever since Steve they opened the shop on Tacoma Street. Despite their ironic labeling they are hardly “a bunch of jerks”
    Best of luck

  16. Avatar Erik Tonkin says:

    Thanks for the story! Check out Backpedal for service in the Lents, Arleta and Mt. Scott areas, for sure. Good guys are there, and they could use the support. As for used parts, we at SCR have way more than ever before, but they are not on any kind of display. We moved w/o missing a business day, so many of our bins are in back or the basement. Please just ask, and we’ll show you. Thanks!

  17. Avatar 180mm_dan says:

    Sellwood Cyclery is the epitome local bike shop. If I lived closer to them, they would be my shop. But it was getting silly driving my car to them for repairs.

    North Portland Bike works is equally excellent in their own style. Hooray for both!

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