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Heritage Bicycles staff

It was a nice surprise when I checked e-mail Monday morning and saw an announcement for the grand opening party for Heritage Bicycles General Store, Chicago’s first bike shop café, on Saturday, January 28, 6-11 pm at 2959 N. Lincoln. I immediately called up owner Michael Salvatore to ask for a sneak peek at the nearly completed space.

When I checked out the storefront back in October, Salvatore told me he hoped to open the shop in November but, unsurprisingly, it’s taken a little longer than expected for this unique business to navigate the city’s permitting process. “The City of Chicago was quite the hurdle,” he said when I visited on Tuesday. “This has been a learning process for me, the architect and the entire crew, but it’s been a fun experience. And if we’d opened in November the Christmas rush would have killed us, so the timing turned out for the best.”

When I dropped by, city workers were poking around with flashlights inspecting the shop’s electrical work, and the space was still a work in progress. But it’s clear this will soon be one of the most attractive coffee shops, let alone bike stores, in town.

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Barista Alan Gagne

The former florist shop has been beautifully refurbished and painted in a striking black-and-white color scheme. Theater-style spotlights and old-timey exposed light bulbs hang from the ceiling. There’s a long communal table made of reclaimed wood, plus banquettes upholstered with coffee sacks. Old-fashioned gramophones installed near the ceiling have modern stereo speakers hidden in their horns, ala Andrew Bird’s recent installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

A rep from Stumptown Coffee Roasters was in from New York City training the new barista staff, and I overheard bits of shop talk like, “Caffeine is not very soluble.” Trainee Alan Gagne pulled a shot of espresso for me to sample. Served in an elegant stainless-steel cup, it tasted pleasantly like Cracker Jack. The café will also be offering pastries, salads and sandwiches from nearby Southport Grocery, as well as house-made sodas with syrup from Brooklyn’s P & H Soda Co.

As for bikes, there weren’t a whole lot of them to be seen in the store yet, but they’ll be coming soon. Salvatore is co-owner of New York’s Bowery Lane Bicycles, which builds old-fashioned, single-speed cruisers within that city’s limits. With Heritage Bicycles his goal was to bring bicycle manufacturing back to Chicago, which was once the hub of the nation’s bike industry.

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Michael Salvatore with Bowery Lane “Broncks Black”

Salvatore recently switched fabricators to a company based in the Uptown, and he says about 15 “Daisy” modified-mixte bikes have been built, in two sizes, retailing at $695. The shop will also sell Bowery Lane bikes, and he hopes to roll out a locally made diamond-frame model this spring. Since the new fabricator has “phenomenal” metal-working gear, Salvatore said he’s looking into manufacturing his own racks, chain guards and fenders as well. The store may also carry locally produced, bike-friendly clothing by Nonetheless, plus Chicago-made bags and shop aprons by Winter Session. “There’s so much great talent in this city,” he said.

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Heritage Bicycles “Daisy” model

Heritage will be a full-service bike shop, and Salvatore has hired mechanics Charlie Seeman, formerly of Working Bikes, and Gavin Gould, who also works at Iron Cycles. This spring young students from West Town Bikes’ education programs will also be helping out around the store.

When I visited, Seeman was cleaning construction dust from his workspace. “It’s a new experience for me to set up a shop,” he said. “It’s cool to put all your experiences together and make a difference in the bike world.” I asked him about the selling points of the store’s bicycles. “They’re affordable bikes geared towards people who don’t ride so much, and the coffee shop’s a great way to get people in the door.” Since the mechanics will have unlimited access to caffeine, I expect they’ll be completing tune-ups in record time.

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Charlie Seeman in the workshop

If you can’t wait until the 28th to check out the shop, Salvatore said they’ll be having a soft opening next week, starting Monday, January 23. “People shouldn’t expect too much,” he said. “We’re still ordering bikes, gear, accessories and food. But they’re welcome to stop by for a test ride and a cup of Joe.”

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