Art Abel, Rick Ortiz, Veronica Ortiz, Angel Carabes.
[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Wednesday evenings.]
One thing I love about bicycle stores is they often double as community centers. Irv’s Bike Shop, a mom-and-pop store in Pilsen that marks its fortieth anniversary this month, is a great example. “We have a family vibe because it’s family and close friends that work here, and our customers see that,” says staffer Veronica Ortiz, whose brother-in-law Enrique “Henry” Ortiz owns the shop and husband Ricardo “Rick” Ortiz manages it. “And our shop is considered loyal to the neighborhood because we’ve been part of the community for so long.”
Original owner Irv Rout, eighty-three, grew up in Pilsen a few blocks from the store at 17th and Racine. After serving in two wars he opened a general merchandise shop with his wife Zora “Violet” Rout in the next storefront west of the present-day bike shop. In 1972 he opened the current location and began stocking bike parts. “A fellow said ‘Why don’t you sell tires and tubes,’” Irv tells me over the telephone from his home in suburban Hillside. “‘The kids will find you.’”
During the first few years he owned the bike shop, the neighborhood transitioned from mostly Czech, German and Eastern European to mostly Mexican. The Ortiz’s uncle Rafael “Ralph” Cartagena, now living in Florida, was Irv’s first employee. Victoria, Henry and Ricardo, as well as non-related staffers Arturo “Art” Abel and Augustin Toledo, grew up near the shop and liked to spend time there after school and on weekends. Back then the store also sold toys and housed a couple of arcade games. “It was a good place for the kids to hang out,” says Irv. “The mothers sent their kids there because they knew they wouldn’t get into any trouble.”