A remarkable thing happened in southwest Minneapolis recently: A small storefront became available for a new tenant and was not instantly filled by a tiny restaurant with seven tables and a three-hour wait.
Thank Charlie Siftar. In his previous life, he was an engineer and salesman for a supply chain management company. He’d pitch a bar-code device in one city, then help a Wisconsin cheese factory simplify its Parmesan production. A good job, but there comes a time in a man’s life when bar codes are not enough.
“My wife noticed my heart wasn’t in it,” he says. “I was marking time.” He quit, spent a year in the garage tinkering with bikes and realized this pastime might be the next career. After working in one bike shop, he ended up buying a shuttered one on Grand Avenue in Minneapolis. Now he tinkers for kids and parents and anyone else who’s flummoxed by a balky derailleur.
It’s Charlie’s Tangletown Bike Shop now, but when he bought the old shop it was Charlie’s newly inherited bike graveyard. The basement was stuffed with orphaned bikes.
“Every bike that had a name on it was returned, except one. There were some people who’d forgotten they’d left the bike there a year and a half ago. Difficult bikes whose problems were never resolved.”
In other words, dropped off like a dog on the edge of town. Some people.
Speaking of irritating people, do you run one of those bikier-than-thou places that caters to the hard-core Spandex clichés?
He confesses to having had his own Spandex phase in life. “There are many shops where you’re not accepted if you don’t have tattoos and a mean look, but we’re family-oriented.” And hipster-friendly.
“We have some retro bikes, a Lady Schwinn Varsity, a real heavyweight. We have the collector bikes, like the Bridgestone, a cult classic among certain hipsters. The type of bike you ride is a statement about you as much as your car. We’ll get old-timers coming in to tell fish stories of the bikes they used to own.”
If it sounds like the general store, with the old guys telling tales around the cracker barrel, perhaps it is. The neighborhood bike shop is one of the last of the old-style stores that once filled the brick buildings on the trolley nodes. Nothing against places that offer gifts or supper, but it’s nice to have a place that provides a service.
“Yes, even the barber shops are going,” he said. “You don’t make a lot of money, but it’s so satisfying. When we opened, people who drove past or jogged by the store said, ‘We’re glad you’re here.’ ”
By the way, winter’s coming; surely there’s less to do when the snow flies. “Oh, projects come in. People who’ve bought a vintage frame and want the entire bike built up. The winter riders who need a flat fixed or a tuneup, or had their bike destroyed by road salt.” But the pressure’s off as biking season closes, right?
“I hate to admit it,” he said, “but I was 4 minutes late opening up today.”
That’s OK. A good bike is fast. A good neighborhood bike shop’s a little bit slower.
James Lileks • firstname.lastname@example.org