BRONZEVILLE — Bronzeville is getting its first bike shop on Friday when one of the former mechanics at Blackstone Bicycle Works opens Small Shop Cycles and Service.
Chris Willard, who trained young mechanics and helped run Blackstone Bikes for nine years, is venturing out on his own with a new shop in a former cellphone store at 4250 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
“It was just a box and had gray and blue paint — it felt like a cellphone store,” Willard said Tuesday.
He had transformed the storefront into something far brighter and more welcoming by Tuesday as he unpacked the new bikes preparing for the opening. The store is packed with bright neon custom bike parts and a wall of helmets and locks, things that people in Bronzeville had to travel to Hyde Park or Bridgeport in the past to buy.
“It’s definitely nice for the neighborhood because we’re up and coming,” said John Kinchen, who had convinced Willard to start work early to assemble his bike. “I think tons of people are going to come out when it opens.”
Willard is hoping so, too.
He said the shop has been a longtime dream of his, allowing him to bring together his love for his neighborhood and bikes.
“At the beginning of the day, I walk or bike two blocks down the street and I get really giddy,” Willard said.
For the neighborhood, he’s stocking bikes that are otherwise difficult to find in the city and bring together clean design and affordability.
He’s starting the shop with Retrospec bikes from Los Angeles, which literally have all the bells and whistles and a rack for $350. He’s also stocking Jamis bikes, which are hard to find at other bike shops in the city.
“They do a little bit of everything, which is why I like them,” Willard said, adding that he will add Fixation bikes later down the road.
All new bikes will come with a subscription for much of the routine maintenance for the entire year, a service Willard is hoping other cyclists will sign up for.
He said the entire venture is funded through loans from family and friends and credit cards. But he lucked out and was able to buy all the old stock from Bob’s Bike Shop in Park Ridge, which will have him set for many of the parts he’ll need for several years.
Willard said he’s still working on the permits to put up the new sign, but the shop doesn’t seem like it will be short of customers, several people came in just to chat and check out the store during the brief interview.
He said he will be excited to see his hand-painted sign for Small Shop Cycles, a play on the expression, "shop small, shop local" go up in the coming months.
"'Shop small,' I liked that so I stole it,” Willard said.
Small Shop Cycles and Service will host a grand opening ceremony from 6-8 p.m. Friday.
Small Shop Cycles is carrying affordable brands that are hard to find at other shops in the city.
Small Shop Cycles is offering subscriptions for bike maintenance for a year or more.
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