After 61 years in business, Penn Cycle has shut the doors to all six of its stores and will reopen Friday under new ownership by Freewheel Bike.
Owner Pat Sorensen, a son of the founder, turned the lock on the door at the Richfield store for the final time Monday evening as employees and customers gathered to share memories and offer support.
Elmer Sorensen, a mechanic at Northwest Airlines, opened the first Penn Cycle bike store and repair shop in Richfield in 1957. With five kids, he wanted to supplement his income. His wife, Mary, invested proceeds from the day care she operated out of the family home.
In an e-mail to customers Sunday evening, Pat Sorensen announced the sale, but provided few details.
“After a great deal of consideration, we’ve decided that the time has come to take a new and exciting step,” Sorensen said. “We’ve found a partner in Freewheel Bike, who will take what we’ve created here at Penn Cycle and build on it, continuing to serve our community in even bigger and better ways while sticking to the same core principles of treating people like family and delivering outstanding customer service.”
Officials at Penn Cycle said Sorensen was not available for comment. Freewheel owner Kevin Ishaug did not return a call.
Sorensen had been in the midst of a legal battle with some of his siblings over the lease agreement in buildings where the bike shops were located. Court documents show Penn Cycle owed money to its main supplier, Trek Bicycle Corp.
Chris Skogen, Penn Cycle’s general manager, said the other stores planned to close an hour early Monday, so employees could join Sorensen at the Richfield store. The staff was offered a chance to continue working for Freewheel, he said.
“Pat is 64 going on 65,” Skogen said. “He’s been looking at retirement. It’s something that’s been on his mind for a while. We’re all supportive of that. When you put your whole life into something, eventually there comes a time when you’ve got to do something else.”
Freewheel Bikes opened in 1974 by founders described on its website as “a small group of progressive bike nuts who were looking to challenge the norms of the 1970s bike industry.” Ishaug bought it in 2000.
Freewheel has two locations in Minneapolis as well as locations in Eden Prairie and Roseville.
The shop boasts of paying “livable wage jobs.” It helped launch the Nice Ride MN bike share program and has a long history of teaching cyclists to repair their own bikes.
“I think Freewheel embodies many of same things as Penn Cycle to support a bicycle-centered community,” said Skogen, noting that Penn Cycle had been around longer than the Twins and the Vikings sports teams.
“Freewheel is absolutely the right group to continue to build on the legacy we’re leaving.”
Freewheel will honor Penn Cycle gift certificates and in-store credits through April 3.
As word of the closing spread on social media, generations of Minnesotans recalled buying their first bike at the shop and then going back to outfit their children as they started families. Many recalled how Penn Cycle sponsored community events and put a premium on customer service.
“Thank you Pat,” wrote Facebook commenter Steve Pickrel. “Our journey went from competitor, to customer, to friend. The Minneapolis cycling community wouldn’t be the amazing thing it has become without your generosity and the hard work of your colleagues. You will all always be a part of that community.”