Bike shops survive side-by-side in Dinkytown

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For five years, Varsity Bike and Transit and Erik’s Bike and Board Shop have sat side-by-side on Fourth Street Southeast — attracting two different types of bikers.

When Varsity moved from its former location on the opposite side of the Varsity Theater to expand its store, it found itself right next to Erik’s.

Although the two bike shops are competitors, they both have their own customer base and serve different bicyclists in the city.

Local ties

On a sunny day, customers can walk into the open doors of Varsity and see the bright, popping colors of custom bikes lining the walls and ceiling.

A bike covered in Pabst Blue Ribbon beer logos hangs from Varsity’s ceiling — a “customer favorite,” said employee Kevin Anderson.

The shop caters to commuter-riders — mostly students who rely on bikes to get around campus, Anderson said.

As a small business, he said, Varsity is “better able to focus on the local neighborhood.”

Varsity owner Rob DeHoff started the “urban bike shop” 18 years ago because of his love for biking, and he continues to promote cycling as an alternative to cars and buses.

Aside from the selection for city riders and affordable bikes, customer Nic Krane said he prefers Varsity because of their unique bikes.

“Compared to Erik’s, their wall is like a canvas,” he said.

Krane hadn’t heard of Varsity before noticing their yellow sign while walking down Fourth Street.

He didn’t think it looked like much on the outside, but was pleasantly surprised when he walked in, Krane said.

Although some passers-by might miss the little shop, Anderson said, it has no problem competing with Erik’s.

“It’s a good feeling that the small guys can roll with them,” he said.

Chain familiarity

Next door, Erik’s provides two floors of neatly organized higher-end bikes and accessories.

In their close quarters, Varsity and Erik’s employees often exchange greetings and chat about bikes — a shared passion.

Employees often step next door to ask for small parts and will even advise customers to check each other’s stores for things they don’t sell.

“At the end of the day, what it comes down to is people who love bikes,” said Erik’s store manager Ty Buckley.

While Varsity is more of a “utility” bike shop, Erik’s serves more recreational riders, Buckley said. The Dinkytown location offers a larger selection of longboards than their other branches, he said, which also sets them apart from their neighbor.

John Rupsch, University of Minnesota entrepreneurial management and musical performance junior, browsed the spacious store while waiting for his bike to be repaired.

The Minnesota-based store caters to his needs as a mountain biker while being straightforward in their sales approach, he said.

“There’s no BS,” Rupsch said, “You know what you’re getting.”

The approach of each store may be different, but they share a mutual respect, said Erik’s employee Chris Lanyon.

Anderson agreed.

“You’d think it wouldn’t work,” he said, “but it has.”

Feeding the bike culture

Biking has become part of Minneapolis culture in the past five years, DeHoff said, which has helped the biking business succeed despite the economy.

From 2007 to 2012, daily bicyclist trips increased 56 percent in Minneapolis, according to the 2012 Minneapolis Bicyclist and Pedestrian Count Report.

“We like to think we have a hand in that culture,” Buckley said.

After moving into its current location, Varsity was able to sell cargo and electric bikes as the city began to encourage biking for daily transportation.

DeHoff started using bikes as his main mode of transportation 20 years ago, when it was much more unusual, he said.

“People used to say ‘you’re crazy,’” he said. “Then it changed to ‘how can I do that?’”