Fridley Heights Cyclery: Bike shop keeps peddling after 7 decades

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT  , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 6, 2014 - 3:40 PM

Fridley Heights Cyclery in Columbia Heights has been in business — and in the family — since 1945.

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Fridley Heights Cyclery has stayed in the family for seven decades and is now owned by Douglas Rodengen, grandson of founders Elvin and Frances Rodengen.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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The business grew and, in 1945, they opened the Fridley Heights Cyclery on E. Hennepin Avenue near the old Grain Belt brewery in northeast Minneapolis, said their grandson Douglas Rodengen.

The business moved to Columbia Heights in 1969, and around that time, Douglas began working there. It felt good to help out his parents, who were then running things. “It was a great time in life,” he said.

Today, the shop is still there, still selling and repairing bikes — and still in the family. Douglas Rodengen is now the owner.

Fridley Heights Cyclery is one of the oldest bicycle shops around and maybe the longest-running Schwinn dealer in the state, said Rodengen, as he leaned on a wooden display case that dates to the original store.

The place has an old-time feel, with vintage Schwinn signs and clocks that light up, along with a couple of antique bikes on display, including a 1969 Schwinn Orange Krate. Douglas Rodengen put it together when it was brand new.

Many people who come in remember buying their first bike at the shop years ago, and sometimes they bring it back in to be restored. Fridley Heights Cyclery has some parts for vintage models on hand. At this point, it’s a matter of how long that pile lasts, Rodengen said.

That lends drama in the bike world. “As you get into the ‘bike mystique,’ you find that most people, once they find a good bike, they never sell it,” he said. It has to do with “a feeling of the past, something that you enjoy, an investment of time and money. You feel you’re a part of it.”

At the same time, the shop has a wide selection of the “latest and greatest” bikes and accessories, he said. Just as the business is a family affair, it caters to families with a selection of middle-of-the-road-type bikes for all ages and tastes — “a little of everything,” Rodengen said.

Some customers are hobbyists who fix up bikes in their spare time. But the clientele runs the gamut. One man came in recently with his pastor to pay for a bike he stole from the shop in the 1980s. “Everyone walks in with different wants and needs, different dreams,” Rodengen said.

On his end, whether he’s dealing with a new or old bike, Rodengen said “there’s definitely the satisfaction of getting the proper fit” for someone. “If you can fulfill that, then you feel like you’re successful.”

A mix of past and present

After World War II, just about every bike that came in for repair happened to be a cruiser, according to store materials. In the 1970s, the bike business was blossoming. “Schwinn was huge in the bike world,” Rodengen said. “We couldn’t keep them on the floor because the company only made so many at a time.”

Since then, the shop’s demographics have changed somewhat. In general, the clientele has gotten older. Often, older customers are shopping for “comfort bikes,” which are designed so that they can ride with ease, said shop repairman Tony Novak.

There have been other changes. Earlier bikes were more labor-intensive to build and in the past the store had a bigger staff, Rodengen said.

Children used to save up to buy a bike. Now people have credit cards and “you don’t see that” anymore, he said. Plenty of young people come to the store, but there’s a feeling that the younger generation is more wrapped up in electronics and games, Rodengen said.

Still, many families want their children to have bikes. Over the past few years, cost has been a factor, and more people pick up bikes at discount stores, he said. The recession had an impact.

Yet, activity is on the upswing. Riding in groups as a social activity is a current trend, and more people are donning helmets, while bike lanes and bike-sharing programs are springing up.

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