The Story Behind A BFA: Back Street Bicycle Service & Repair
Since the Bicycle Friendly America program began, we’ve seen so many amazing applications come our way from communities, businesses, and universities across the country. On our map, you can find all current awardees, but what’s a little harder to capture with a pinpoint are the things that make each business or community or university so inspiring. So, we set up a way for the advocates behind the awards to tell us more about the people on the ground building a Bicycle Friendly America for everyone. Let us know which BFA champion should be next on the blog »
Paul Nye, owner, operator and the sole employee of Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB) Back Street Bicycle Service & Repair — which will soon close after 24 years of service — can attest to the fact that bike shops are important to growing a Bicycle Friendly Community. Many serve as more than a place to repair or purchase a bike — they serve as hubs where people learn how to improve their riding, discover new places to ride and get connected to the cycling scene in their area. Back Street, in the small town of Walker, Minnesota, is no different.
The bicycle shop has been a Bicycle Friendly Business since 2018 when it was first awarded a Gold-level designation. It was promoted to Platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Business status in our Spring 2022 round of awards — making it one of 78 current Platinum BFBs across the country. That level of dedication to improving the quality of community bicycling deserves to be recognized!
WHAT DOES THIS AWARD MEAN FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
Credibility….and a lot of pride. I opened the first retail bicycle shop in 1998 in Walker, and it was an uphill battle as primarily one of very few people in the community who saw the vision of Walker becoming a bicycle community because of the hundreds of miles of bicycle trails that were being developed at that time. Our shop had weekly shop rides and we did nearly everything we could to support and promote cycling in a community that people primarily came to for fishing and other events. Locals were shocked that a bicycle purchased at a bike shop could cost as much as $400 [versus what they had seen at big box stores], which might give an indication of what we were up against. As a very small business of three employees, including me as owner, we spent over $20,000 a year advertising our shop as well as promoting bicycling and our passion for bicycles. It was a tough six years, but well worth it to me personally if for no other reason than developing in my son, Taylor, the same passion my father instilled in me as a utilitarian cyclist.
We closed our retail shop in 2004 after the building we rented was sold to someone who wanted our space. We couldn’t find another space that was reasonable for a business that operated nine months out of the year, so since we lived in a commercial zone in Walker, we turned the small garage of our 80-year-old house into a bicycle repair shop. The shop is 200 square feet and has eight hooks for servicing bikes, a wall of popular retail products that interest customers, and my workbench and tools. 80 percent of my business comes from my website (walkermnbicycleshop.com), the remaining comes from repeat customers and word of mouth. The only advertising I do is through my website, business cards, volunteer community service work related to bicycling, and my reputation.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO APPLY TO THE BICYCLE FRIENDLY BUSINESS PROGRAM?
Encouragement from the Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce [also a BFB], and the growing cycling community in Walker. After 20 years of working in the bicycle retail business, I’ve worked tirelessly to promote, service, encourage and build cycling and our city as a great destination for cyclists. It is very encouraging and heartening for me to see our community and its businesses come around to support, advocate and encourage cycling as a destination for tourism in the Leech Lake area. As a footnote of distinction, in 2018 I believe the League of American Bicyclists awarded 88 businesses nationwide with the BFB award. Of the 88 awarded, 11 businesses were from a town of fewer than 1,000 people – Walker, MN.
HOW HAS BIKE CULTURE AT YOUR BICYCLE FRIENDLY BUSINESS GROWN SINCE YOUR FIRST AWARD IN 2018?
Since my shop is probably the “smallest bike shop in Minnesota”, the bike culture of my business isn’t affected much because I am the sole employee. Yep, I basically hired myself to do all the work entailed in operating a bicycle (repair) shop. However, the bike culture in the community has changed since my first award simply because Walker has become a bigger bicycle destination community thanks to the vast network of trails in and all around a lot of the lakes. It’s so nice to have so many people who are now supporting cycling in Walker.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST BICYCLE-FRIENDLY ADVANCEMENT YOUR BICYCLE FRIENDLY BUSINESS HAS MADE?
I live in a commercially zoned district in Walker, in an 80-year-old house with a really small garage – too small for a car, but just right for a tiny bike shop. So, my “shop hours” are “if I’m home, I’m open.” Walker is a very popular tourist community in MN, and anytime people come up here to bike, their bikes will likely need some work. I’ve had people call me at 6:30 a.m. and people stop at my house at 9 p.m., wondering if I could fix their flat tire cuz they’re going for an early morning ride the next day. But, I would say the biggest advancement I made was during the pandemic. I implemented bicycle service by appointment only, except for flat tire repairs, which I do immediately to get cyclists back on the trails. The “appointment only” system has allowed me to not only control the number of bikes that could clutter up my small shop and greatly impinge on my workflow, but also the ability to service (do a bike tune-up) the day a cyclist brings their bike in, and get it back to them in a few hours.
Basically offering “same-day service” has made my customers very happy. Also, because I am the sole employee and my shop hours are unique and flexible, I have the liberty of doing mobile repairs or picking up a stranded cyclist somewhere on the trail and taking them and their bike back to my shop for service. That has made my shop and service unique, especially in the Walker area.
WHAT’S IN STORE FOR THE FUTURE OF BACK STREET?
Closing the shop will leave a huge bicycle service void in Walker as I am the only service center for 30 miles. I operated a retail bike shop for six years before deciding to focus solely on service work and selling popular accessories. I am hoping to sell my tools and inventory to some entrepreneurs interested in taking all things bicycle in the Walker community to the next level. The last 24 years of operating a seasonal shop (April-Oct.) have been an absolute blast. And the people I’ve met from all over the world have been an inspiration to me to get out and ride my bike more and get more involved in bicycle advocacy.
If you would like to see your story on our blog or on our social media, share your journey to being better for people who bike with us now, and if you would like to see your business earn the League’s Bicycle Friendly Business designation, apply today at apply.bikeleague.org or learn more at bikeleague.org/business. Applications for our fall round of BFB awards are due by November 3, 2022, at 11:59 pm PT.