A Dutch bike store dies, a bicycle café is born

[flickr]photo:6207956624[/flickr]Michael Salvatore, owner of Heritage Bicycles

[This article also appears in Newcity magazine.]

Chicago just lost one of its coolest bike shops, but we’re gaining one that may be even cooler. Last week Dutch Bike Co. abruptly closed its Chicago location, only three months after relocating from Lincoln Park to Wicker Park. Founded in Seattle, the company opened its only satellite store three years ago at 651 W. Armitage in a gallery-like storefront. They offered beautiful, practical European-style city bikes by brands like WorkCycles and Linus, most costing over $1,000.

[flickr]photo:6218707128[/flickr]Dutch Bike Co. on Armitage – image courtesy of the company

This summer the shop moved to 2010 W. Pierce, around the corner from Penny’s Noodles, in search of lower rent and higher foot traffic, says owner Dave Schmidt, speaking from Seattle. But even in bike-crazy Wicker Park, sales were not what he’d hoped. It probably didn’t help matters that Wicker Park mainstay Rapid Transit Cycle Shop, 1900 W. North, and Copenhagen Cyclery, another Euro-style store at 1375 N. Milwaukee, were only a stone’s throw away.

[flickr]photo:6218707028[/flickr]Copenhagen Cyclery – image courtesy of the shop

“The last few years have been hard on retail, and even in a big city there’s still a pretty small niche market of people spending that kind of money on a bike,” says Schmidt. He decided to negotiate an exit from his lease before cold weather set in, hence the sudden shop closure. “Chicago winters can be pretty brutal for bike stores,” he explains. “It’s pretty hard to turn a profit in January.”

Schmidt shipped his remaining stock back to Seattle. Head mechanic Chris Williams says he and manager Vince Spina are looking into opening a mobile bike repair business or a repair-only shop in the near future.

[flickr]photo:6218707078[/flickr]Schmidt, mechanic Will Brehman and co-owner Stephan Schier at the opening of Dutch Bike Co. on Armitage – image courtesy of the company

In happier news, Heritage Bicycles General Store is gearing up to open in Lakeview at 2959 N. Lincoln, offering locally-made city bikes and an in-house café – a first for Chicago. Owner Michael Salvatore is currently renovating the space, a former flower shop, and hopes to launch in November, pending city permits.

[flickr]photo:6207446655[/flickr]Salvatore with Bowery Lane Bicycles’ “Broncks Black” model

Salvatore is a co-owner of NYC’s Bowery Lane Bicycles, which builds old-timey single-speed cruiser bikes in a 30% solar-powered factory within the city limits. The new store will sell Bowery Lane models as well as Heritage bikes, a new line of commuter cycles that a local metal fabricator is now building in Humboldt Park. “99 percent of bikes sold in this country are made in Taiwan or China,” Salvatore says. “But there’s so many talented craftspeople in this country I don’t see any reason we have to buy bikes from overseas.”

Examples of both brands are currently on display in the shop windows. The Chicago-made model, named “Daisy” after the cow blamed for starting the Great Fire, features a skirt-friendly “mixte” frame, 27” wheels, a single-speed coaster brake hub, upright bars, fenders, chain guard and a comfy saddle, and it retails for $695. In the future Salvatore hopes to roll out diamond-frame city bikes as well as cargo bikes with a large box in front for hauling groceries and children.

[flickr]photo:6207958368[/flickr]Heritage Bikes “Daisy” model

Heritage will offer repairs for all kinds of bicycles, and Salvatore plans to hire mechanics that have graduated from the youth apprentice program at West Town Bikes, a bike education center in Humboldt Park. The students will also have an opportunity to learn barista skills at the coffee counter, which will offer Stumptown beans, house-made sodas and pastries from a local bakery.

[flickr]photo:6207954482[/flickr]Future coffee counter

While bicycle shop cafés are a common business model in towns like Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis, Heritage will be a novelty in Chicago. The vintage space, with a long, communal table fashioned from reclaimed wood and a condiment bar made out of an old White Star stove, should be a cozy place to relax with a hot drink and swap road stories while you get a wheel straightened. “The café is a way to sustain business during the winter months and get people in the door,” says Salvatore. “And bike culture goes hand-in-hand with coffee culture. There are people who are snobs about both.”

[flickr]photo:6207439541[/flickr]The service area

Published by

John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

18 thoughts on “A Dutch bike store dies, a bicycle café is born”

  1. Three months apparently wasn’t long enough to establish themselves, I’m around that area all the time and didn’t even know that they had moved in.

    1. Dutch Bikes closing in Chicago is indeed unfortunate.  I visited the shop when it was on Armitage.  They carried the Busch & Muller lighting line that is top notch.  I knew they had moved to a new location but never got to visit before they closed.

      1. Me neither. I was barely aware they had opened in Wicker Park when they closed. I think that was part of the problem – although I pass through Mil/Dam/Nor several times a week, because they were on a side street I never noticed their storefront.

          1. I convinced my friend Katinka to buy one of their bikes just the week before they closed. I bought mine a few years back, and those bikes have only one negative (for the seller, that is): They last a lifetime, need very little maintenance, I have had one flat so far, and the thing has survived the ugliest potholes on C streets as well as two winters without a hitch with daily use. Compared to a car those bikes are cheap for what they offer, but I guess that was a difficult argument to make when there is a large offer of flimsy “comfort” bikes for around 300 bucks…

          2. Is this Heritage place ever going to open?   January will surely be ideal time for shop to hope here in Chicago.

          3. This is for Erin below: Apparently Heritage has had trouble getting the license. Check out this comment thread on their Google Plus page: https://plus.google.com/111669692266250625835/posts/bTMXjMW6FhB

          4. Here’s an update from Michael Salvatore:

            “We have all the approvals except for the Mayors Dept of Disability. We
            should get that tomorrow. From there we will be getting the permit to
            build (7-10 days) and buildout should only take 2-3 weeks. Most likely
            have a week of soft openings with different times and events to get the
            system locked in and we should be open late Jan.”

      2. Busch & Muller make great lights and you can get them from Dutch Bike Seattle, Clever Cycles in Portland, or Peter White Cycles – all have mail order options. 

  2. That bike is gorgeous.  Good for them!!  Maybe Chicago will become the cycle-building empire it once was ; ).

    1. That would be very cool. I was just talking to a bike shop owner yesterday that it might be helpful to bike shops if they created a Chicagoland Bicycle Dealers Association to pool money together to create a marketing campaign that promoted bicycling as transportation. 

  3. that looks like my next bike!  i don’t know about blue city opening a cafe at their current location.  bridgeport coffee is practically around the corner and their shop is fully stocked (and cats). 

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