I saw this article in the OWH a few days ago and began to think whether or not downtown omaha has enough foot or bike traffic to keep shop that sells medium- to high-end bikes profitable. I agree there is a gap in bike shop availability and think providing rentals is a different way to increase bike presence downtown. I also think Mr. Swan has some huevos to open a bike shop in this economy. Kuddos to his entrepreneurial spirit! I'm always excited to check out bike shops and am interested in seeing how this bike shop does! Best of Luck!
A pedal-peddling retailer is spinning into north downtown, selling bicycles and related accessories for everyone from racers to commuters and offering bike rentals and taxis to tourists, concertgoers and future ballpark visitors.
The owner and the manager of Greenstreet Cycles hope to tap into several converging trends with their new venture just east of Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater, near 13th and Mike Fahey Streets.
The store, which plans to open in March, will be the latest of about a dozen bike shops in the Omaha metro area, plus several large national chains with bike sections, that serve a growing population of cyclists.
More people are turning to cycling as a competitive and recreational sport and also as an environmentally friendly form of transportation. Omaha’s expanding trail system and wellness movements like Activate Omaha are further fueling local interest.
Greenstreet Cycles owner Ben Swan said the downtown area specifically is ripe for serving the biking community, himself included.
The closest shops to his planned store are Olympia Cycle at 1324 N. 40th St. and Re-Cycle Bike Shop at 1902 S. 13th St., which refurbishes old bikes along with selling new ones and trading.
The growing downtown Omaha population, recent completion of connector trails between the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, and various north downtown attractions made Swan more willing to dive into his first retail venture at a time when some retailers are struggling.
The 28-year-old entrepreneur is investing his own money toward half the $150,000 start-up costs. He is working with local banks to secure the remaining financing.
Swan, a native of Des Moines and 2006 graduate of Creighton University, is vice president of Omaha-based RIC, a bank service vendor that provides software, trust asset review and risk management reports to large regional banks. He also is an owner-member of Omaha-based Entrust Settlements, a life settlement broker.
Swan works near 87th Street and West Center Road and lives downtown.
A recreational biker, Swan said he saw a hole in the market: no downtown bike shop. So did an employee of a La Vista bike shop.
Sarah Johnson, a 28-year-old Omaha native, was working at Highgear Bicycle Store at 8610 Brentwood Dr. when she told Swan of her desire to someday own a bike shop in Omaha. She had owned a bicycle and coffee shop in Grand Lake, Colo., before returning to Omaha last March.
“I just want people to get on bikes,” said Johnson, a 2003 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “I feel like a bike evangelist, just going around sharing the joys of biking.”
“She’s just so good with client education,” Swan said of Johnson. “Very charismatic, just somebody you could trust and count on for future service.”
Swan said he knows business and routinely thinks about starting businesses, but he realized he was no expert in cycling or servicing bikes. He asked Johnson to manage the store and also recruited Highgear’s head mechanic, Andy Pedley, 29.
In addition to the three full-time employees of Swan, Johnson and Pedley, the store will add other full-time and part-time positions depending on seasonal fluctuations.
“I knew if I had the right people, I’m just giving them a platform to do what they do best,” Swan said.
Johnson had a special interest in Swan’s planned location: She always wanted to open a store in Dundee or downtown.
The opening of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in September 2008, linking Council Bluffs and downtown Omaha, was “the tipping point” in downtown’s potential for biking culture, Swan said.
“With the pedestrian bridge there, we just saw a huge opportunity,” she said. “We just figured it’s just a matter of time before someone does it, so we’re just excited that it’s us.”
Johnson said they considered spaces at 11th and Jones Streets and 10th Street and Capitol Avenue, but the new 22 Floors building was ideal for its proximity to the pedestrian bridge, trails, hotels, Qwest Center Omaha and the under-construction ballpark.
The 2,000-square-foot store is on the ground level between BBB Skateshop, which is part of the Saddle Creek Records complex, and Goodnights Pizza Bar + Patio, scheduled to open by January.
The three-story building also has 22 apartments, which were fully leased within two months, said Christian Christensen of Bluestone Development.
Christensen, the 22 Floors building developer, said the bike shop complements other nearby businesses. They include the independent theater Film Streams, retailers Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, Blue Line Coffee and Slowdown bar.
And because the bike shop is not just selling bikes but promoting social activities, it especially fits with 22 Floors, he said. The apartments’ first-floor lounge, featuring a flat-screen television, Xbox video game system, pool table and laundry facilities, is meant to encourage socializing among the Generation Y tenants.
Swan said the bike shop plans to offer spin classes, social bike rides and “gold sprints,” in which bikes are raced in place at entertainment spots like bars.
Jason Kulbel, one of two record label executives who run Slowdown and developed the neighboring complex, said the bike shop is a modern and like-minded business for the area, which is seeing more cyclists.
“There’s a crew of bikers that one of our bartenders is in,” Kulbel said. “They come to the bar a lot, and I see them riding around on the weekends a lot. I think there’s a bike culture, even though it might be small, around here.”
“Bikes are cool right now,” he said.
Activate Omaha, an exercise advocacy group, said 693 bike commuters logged more than 129,000 miles between mid-May and mid-August in the Bike Omaha Challenge.
The League of American Bicyclists, quoting the Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey, said 0.55 percent of Americans use bicycles as their primary means of getting to work. That’s up 36 percent from the first survey in 2005 and 43 percent since the 2000 Census.
The metro area can support another shop, said Miah Sommer, store manager at Highgear Bicycle.
Highgear is moving from 8610 Brentwood Drive to 8410 S. 72nd Plaza in Papillion for higher visibility, Sommer said.
The store, which shares the same owners as the Trek Bicycle Store at 7214 Jones St., also will change its name to Trek when it opens at the new location Feb. 1, Sommer said.
“I think there’s still enough to go around for everybody,” he said. “There are so many people biking now than when I started here six years ago.”
Swan said everyone from his bankers to his landlord has been eager to give advice on the new store. A fellow cyclist is designing the logo, Johnson said.
“Everybody is just bending over backward to make this happen,” Swan said. “I don’t think it would be like this in another city.”
Where: 1310 Mike Fahey St.
Size: About 2,000 square feet, with retail space covering about 1,100 square feet
Opening: March 1
Employees: Three full-time positions and additional full-time and part-time positions with seasonal fluctuations
What: Bicycle equipment and service store that also will lead free social rides, offer spin classes, rent bikes for rides on nearby trails and the pedestrian bridge, and provide three-wheeled bike taxis that transport two to four people to downtown destinations
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