After six years the time has come to shut down my bike shop.
I have always been a strong believer in the idea that locally focused businesses support local community building. The more we keep our consumption local, the more we support and feel connected to our neighbours. Economically and socially, we’re all better off.
But as many of us know, brick & mortar retail ain’t easy.
When we started none of us had ever worked in a bike shop, let alone retail. We never had any startup capital, so we decorated it with fixtures and memorabilia hanging around from two generations of family businesses, and countless objects scoured by my dad in the alleyways of the Plateau. The space immediately developed a special soul that would have been impossible to create otherwise. We borrowed the name “Fitz” from my paternal grandmother Monica Fitzgerald, and the “Follwell” from my maternal grandpa Frank Follwell. It didn’t take long for F&F to become locally known simply as Fitz.
My parents moved to Montreal and dedicated themselves to help keep things running smoothly. My dad, the world’s most creative and resourceful handyman built all the cabinets, displays, signs, and everything else with recycled wood and objects. He rented bikes, guided tours, kept the place stocked with supplies and clean, and kept vinyl playing from his collection that he donated to the shop. My mom was always the best soundboard one could hope for. She got my first website online, and nailed the SEO. She helped with copywriting, editing, and strategic planning, and even book keeping. She made customers feel welcome and even wrote neighbourhood guides for the tourists. She kept me fed most of the time, ran a weekly staff ‘Sunday lunch” and even catered all our events. All would agree her cooking and baking is truly world class. Without their support Fitz would have gone under many times over.
Over the years, Fitz has employed about 50 people. Some who dedicated a tremendous amount more time than they were ever paid for. We worked our asses off to be the best damn community bike shop we could be; a place without judgment where everyone and every bike was welcome. Our objective has always been to get as many butts on bikes as possible. We found solutions to the types of finicky bike problems that many other shops wouldn’t tackle. We brought in bikes and gear that made cycling practical & fun, always with a dose of style – the types of bikes that had not yet seen the streets of Montreal.
We focused hard on stocking products for women and families, both under-served markets that are the most important part to building a successful urban cycling culture. Even though installing child seats on old bikes was sometimes painfully difficult, and kids ringing bells and squeezing horns over and over without their parents seeming to notice killed our ears, the look on a two year-old’s face after putting on a helmet or riding a pedal-less bike for the first time with a big smile made it all worthwhile.
I think I felt most satisfied when a local family told me that after they bought a cargo bike from our shop to ride around their two kids and groceries, they gave up their car and relied upon the bike as their sold mode of transport – year round – and couldn’t be happier. They said they wouldn’t have known about that kind of bike if they hadn’t seen it in our shop. Its a similar feeling to when a tour customers arrive for a 5-hour city tour and nervously admit they haven’t been on a bike in 15 years. We put them on a comfortable and easy-to-ride upright bike and off they go in a safe small group with a friendly and professional guide through the bike paths and streets of Montreal. Many return back from the shop with a new-found confidence and enthusiasm proclaiming “I didn’t realize biking in a city was possible for me. I’m going to get a bike and start riding again back home!”
Successful businesses make profit. Significant businesses build culture.
I will increase my efforts to further contribute to Montreal bicycle culture by participating in the discussion and actions around bike & pedestrian safety and infrastructure development. I firmly believe that the economic success of a city is entrenched within the quality of life, health, and happiness of its citizens, and that bicycles should be considered as a very important part of this complex puzzle. Fresh air, exercise, discovery, social connection, financial savings, no pollution, no wasted time sitting in traffic, no worries….bikes make a lot of sense to solve many problems we face.
As of next week I’ll be going back to basics and concentrating on our Bike, Walking, and Winter tours and bike rentals which was the original mission of Fitz – authentic local discovery experiences. Tourism is absolutely booming in Montreal and we’re putting ourselves in a better position to rock the market for years to come. This year we showed 10,000 people our version of what makes Montreal so special. Next year we want 20,000.
We don’t need all the shop space we currently have; we plan to operate more lean and nimble, and maybe even become mobile. If anyone has any ideas of an existing business that has extra space for some bikes and would benefit from a strong dose of bike culture mojo and 100 new customers per day on vacation looking to spend money, please let me know.
Sat Oct 29th is the last day of business in our retail shop and we’re having a big sale. There are used bikes from my basement, Linus city bikes and a few road/touring bikes from our rental fleet, and plenty of other stuff we’ve accumulated over the years, like helmets, locks, baskets, books, parts, and tools.
We’re even holding a draw for a free bike. There will be coffee from our neighbours Café Plume, a sweet woman named Marie will be selling some delicious samosas and homemade spiced tea, and I’m sure the first beer will be cracked no later than 2pm.
Hope to see you. Thanks for reading.