Renowned bike shop American Cyclery continues to thrive in its 75th year, but due to rising rents and changing consumer habits, owner Bradley Woehl recently closed American Cyclery Too, the bicycle salesroom he operated for two decades.
The original shop, which opened in 1941, was recently renovated and is still going strong, Woehl said. He temporarily closed the retail annex across the street to remodel, but after his landlords reportedly said the rent would increase to "fair market value," he turned in the keys.
The rent hike wasn't the only factor that led Woehl to consolidate. "The way in which people shop and buy has changed, as has our ability to find people in the neighborhood to work for us," he said. Students, musicians and other creative types "just can't afford to live here and work at the bike shop."
Woehl said "spillover" from UCSF Parnassus Heights "is driving up property values all over the area," citing the conversion of Cole Valley Garage into a retail/medical space, and a former laundromat that's poised to become a coffee shop as examples. "When they rented the space to me 18 years ago, it was between me and Blockbuster Video," he said, laughing.
"Because the landlord was a bike guy, he said, 'We'll give it to you guys,'" said Woehl, who added that the owner "turned down big money" to accept American Cyclery Too as a tenant.
As he celebrates the original store's diamond anniversary, Woehl said he's focusing on the future. A planned parklet and plaza that he believes will "absolutely reinvigorate" the shop has reached 20 percent of its fundraising goal of $50,000.
Given American Cyclery's proximity to Golden Gate Park, "This intersection is where people gather to start their rides," said Woehl. "This parklet transforms this ugly little corner into something bigger and better than what it is now."
"For years, this business was the specialty high-end store that catered to the discriminating cyclist," said Woehl, gesturing to cork handlebar tape and saddles imported from England. The now-shuttered store "was more of a family shop where kids and moms got their bikes," but "bikes aren't the cool gift to get at Christmas anymore."
Going forward, American Cyclery is pivoting to "be more of a service-based business, although retail will be an important part of what we do," he added.
The store's voluminous basement backs up Woehl's claim that "as the oldest bike shop in San Francisco, we have a great story." A slew of silver trophies, some from races more than a century ago, gleam in a corner. The walls of a back room are lined with bike-related San Francisco ephemera, including tattered photos, yellowed news clips, posters and more.
"We're working to get ourselves designated as a legacy business, if we can jump through the right hoops," said Woehl. "We'll continue in the neighborhood, and we'll continue to serve the community as best we can."
As for the landlord who owns 510 Frederick St., "They'd be happy to have me for another 75 years as a tenant," said Woehl.
People who want to contribute to American Cyclery's parklet may send funds via PayPal to email@example.com (add “parklet” in the notes), mail a check to the Cole Valley Improvement Association (P.O. Box 170611, SF, CA 94117) or donate in-store.
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