Bicycle store meets coffee shop in Chicago’s Heritage Bicycle General Store

By Yinmeng Liu

Heritage Bicycle General Store is your neighborhood bike shop with a twist. While they wait for their custom-made bikes to be assembled, patrons can sip freshly brewed coffee and eat biscuits at the Lakeview café. The concept has also solved the problem of how to make money in the winter.

Salvatore said the idea to build an onsite café within a bike shop emerged when he worked street festivals at a company called Bower Lane Bicycles in New York City five years ago. He noticed that people with coffee in their hands were more responsive.

Mike Salvatore, the owner of Heritage Bicycle General Store and a fifth generation Chicagoan, said he wanted to create a bike shop that pays homage to the Chicago culture he grew up in. Photo by Yinmeng Liu/Medill News Service
Mike Salvatore, the owner of Heritage Bicycle General Store and a fifth generation Chicagoan, said he wanted to create a bike shop that pays homage to the Chicago culture he grew up in. Photo by Yinmeng Liu/Medill News Service

“I thought I’d do a concept that would work both with creating an environment where people wanted to be in and also a two-season business,” said Salvatore.

Salvatore and his wife, Melissa, had only $120,000 as an initial investment to start the business in January 2012. According to Salvatore, revenues are now growing at a rate of 35 percent every year.

The bike café has become a hot spot for local cyclists and residents. Bella Killion, who lives in nearby Lincoln Park, said she has been coming to the shop since it first opened.

“I like the idea that it’s a combination. Right now I am studying and drinking the coffee. But sometimes I like to come to the bike shop and just look around,” Killion said.

Alan Gagne, general manager, has been with the company since it started and said the family atmosphere lured him away from his office job.

“At my last job as a paralegal I was working with people in unfortunate situations, where here I got to be part of the community and I got to talk to people in positive circumstances and help them enjoy the positive aspects of life,” Gagne said.

Gagne is helping with the next phrase of the business. He will head a Heritage bike shop in Nashville next year. Salvatore also plans to open a café called Heritage Outpost in Uptown this month.

Besides the bicycle cafés, Salvatore opened Heritage Little, a bikes shop for children, just across from the original Heritage store in 2013.

“As long as we keep building our brand and our new products. We can rely on what is going on here and build on more revenue streams,” said Salvatore.