BRIDGEPORT — The cluttered storefront at 33rd and Halsted streets isn't your average bike shop.
Mostly because it's a hardware store — key cutting, plungers and all.
Windy City Hardware owner Jerry Masterson expanded to bicycle repair when he saw the need for it in Bridgeport — and because he was trying to build a ma-and-pa shop success story amid the 2008 recession.
"If you don't reinvent your business, you don't have a business today," he said. "We're surviving because we diversified in what we do."
Windy City overflows with business as bicycles waiting for a tune-up now crowd the tiny shop's aisles. And Masterson is doing what he can to inspire the entrepreneurial spirit in the do-it-yourselfers who stop by for hardware.
"I definitely like to give good advice," Masterson said, and then, with a laugh, "Well, what I think is good advice. Some people call me 'The Preacher.'"
When a young woman came in to get some tape for her garage sale posters, she offered Masterson and his wife, Windy, who runs the shop, some of her homemade vegan banana oatmeal cookies.
"You’re a very good baker. You should bake these, start a company," Masterson advised.
It wasn't more than a few minutes later that a young man, an aspiring designer, came in to buy bike racks but stayed to bounce some ideas for a mural off Masterson.
And the 57-year-old retired cop — Masterson spent more than 28 years on the Chicago police force — isn't the only one with opinions to share.
Windy City Hardware plays host to what Masterson jokingly calls Bridgeport's "political think tank," a group of guys who sit on a few folding chairs and the radiator near the store's entrance.
"We get a bunch of characters," Masterson said. "This is like a meeting spot for them."
And Windy? "She's one of the guys."
The rotating cast members rib each other, mull over current events and share the latest from the neighborhood.
"When you visit our place, you visit generation after generation of residents that come through every day," Masterson said. "They've got stories. They've seen the bad of Bridgeport and the good of Bridgeport."
That's something you won't find in "big box stores," he said.
"There's a lot of advice given out to a lot of young people that come through here," he said. "I think it's well-received. I've looked at comments that people have made [on Yelp] and I was really surprised how they think of us."
Now several years past the store's 2008 reinvention, Masterson isn't content to stop taking his own advice. He has dreams of one day opening a full bike shop in Brighton Park — he knows just the spot on Western.
But in the mean time, he's proud to work beside Windy, preachin' to the think tank.
"This is our home," he said. "That in itself is a success story."