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Bike Shop Riding on Long-Standing Customers, Great Reputation for Business

Around since the 1940s, Park Schwinn Cyclery has only changed ownership a total of three times. A loyal customer-base and a great selection on a variety of bikes help keep business steady.

Like most people, John DeBold used his first job as a teenager to gain experience for future positions.

Unlike most people, DeBold's first job has eventually become his main job. First employed at in 1973, DeBold eventually purchased the business from its second owner in 1994.

"I started here in the summer between eighth grade and my freshman year of high school," DeBold said. "I was working in the back, working the floor, doing repairs, building bikes."

First established in the late 1940s as a side business by a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver who turned it into a full-time gig after retirement, Park Schwinn was purchased by its last owner in 1972, who ran it until DeBold took over.

"It started out being a summer job to make a little bit of money and I just stayed," DeBold said. However, DeBold has worked other jobs, including a long stint with UPS, and also attended school.

"I worked here during the weekend, ... at nights or during the day," DeBold said. "I was still going to school, working here or there, on and off. It just got to where I was here more and more."

When the store's second owner decided to sell, the only logical move for DeBold was to make the shop his own. Since he has worked at Park Schwinn for such a long amount of time, he has been able to see loyal customers who were once kids themselves bringing in their families for bikes.

"I've sold to the kids who were eight and ten. They're coming back and they're from Orland and Tinley and Palos," DeBold said. "We're getting people back from all over. Their parents brought them for their first bike here."

DeBold attributes the store's loyal customer base to always being fair and up-front with prices, and to being an actual personalized bike store versus being a big-box establishment.

"We're always just real honest with everybody," he said. "We're fair priced and we get it done quick. People walk in and they say, 'Oh, smell the rubber.' We didn't modernize the shop a lot. That's why people like it. We're still the neighborhood, family-owned shop."

DeBold said about 95 percent of his customer base is family based, with the remaining five percent going towards those in high-end racing. One of the store's biggest sellers right now is "comfort bikes," DeBold said, which have bigger seats and upright positioning.

"The bikes we're selling now are commuter friendly," he said. "Now the bikes are a seven speed rather than a 21-speed. They're more comfort bikes."

As gas prices have risen to over $4 per gallon in recent weeks, DeBold said he hasn't seen too much of an increase in bikes sales, but rather in customers bringing in existing bikes for repairs and accessories.

Another big-seller for Park Schwinn are 1950's style cruisers, according to DeBold.

"People like to come home from work and want to go for a two, three, four mile bike ride, and this is traditional and a real good seller," he said.

Helping DeBold out with the business is a small team that adds up to about three employees during the summer months.

"It's a small business," he said. "One (employee) has been with us for eight years, one 15. One guy has another job, too. He works here on the side. During the week, he sits behind his cubicle and is an accountant, but he's an avid cyclist and he's more on the sales floor. He likes dealing with people and showing items."

DeBold is an involved owner, with 90 percent of the repair work done by him, he said, adding that the most common repair is flat tires. General tune-ups and maintenance are also frequent jobs, he added.

DeBold hopes to run the business himself for at least another 15 years, and one of his sons has shown interest in the business and works there during the summers, he said. During his ownership of the store, he hasn't done much advertising, instead of relying on word-of-mouth recommendations for business, he said.

"We've been here a long time. We have a great reputation and I plan on keeping that going," DeBold said.

To visit Park Schwinn, 3333 W. 95th St., during the summer months, stop by from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; and call (708) 422-6738 for Wednesday hours. The shop is closed on Sundays.

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