Veteran cyclists Vanessa Buccella and Annie Byrne hope to narrow Chicago’s bicycle commuting gender gap with their new shop BFF Bikes, opening this March at 2113 West Armitage in Bucktown. The city’s first truly woman-centric bike store will feature a largely female staff, a wide selection of women’s apparel, dressing rooms, and other amenities to create an inviting atmosphere for people who might feel less-than-comfortable at a traditional shop.
“Let’s say a woman is thinking about getting back into bicycling,” Buccella said. “She may not have owned a bike since childhood. She walks into a typical bike store and most of the people there are men, and the place is a little rough around the edges. It’s an unfamiliar product and an unfamiliar environment. Our idea is to meet women where they are. It’s going to be a bike shop, but with the feel of a nice clothing store.” BFF should fit right in with the many independently owned boutiques located around the corner on Damen.
There are already a number of women-oriented bike shops in other parts of the country. Buccella cited Pedal Chic in Greenville, South Carolina, Gladys Bikes in Portland, Oregon, and Adeline Adeline in New York City as inspirations for BFF. “The success of these stores is a harbinger that the traditional shop is going to be evolving,” she said.
Buccella, a video editor for WGN, and Byrne, an urban planner with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, first met while Buccella was recruiting women to participate in the Gapers Block Crits racing series. The pair hatched the plan for the shop when Buccella was brainstorming a catchphrase for the online forum Illinois Women Cyclists. “I thought of ‘A cycling community geared for women,’ and my next thought was, ‘Dang, that would make a great slogan for a women’s bike store,” she said.
Although Byrne grew up in the retail industry and has worked as a store manager, neither woman has worked at a bicycle shop before, but Buccella thinks that won’t be a problem. “A lot of these [woman-oriented] shops were started by people who didn’t have experience running a bike store. She said she has some knowledge of mechanics from wrenching on her own rides, Byrne is taking a repair class at West Town Bikes education center, and they’re in the process of hiring a shop manager to handle the technical side of the business. “It’s our vision to have a female head mechanic, but that’s not a necessity,” Buccella said.
The pair see the store as becoming a kind of community center for women who bike. “It will be a neighborhood bike shop, as well as a destination,” Buccella said. They haven’t designed the interior yet, but plan to create a stylish, welcoming environment, with an events calendar on one wall and perhaps a small sofa where customers can relax.
The shop will carry city bikes from PUBLIC (a Streetsblog sponsor) and the owners will soon be meeting with a rep from Giant. They’ll also be able to order cycles and gear from the Minneapolis-based wholesale distributor Quality Bicycle Products. “We’re going to be stocking clothes that you can’t get at other shops in the city,” Buccella said. “We’ll be hosting weekly bike rides for women, as well as clinics and fitness classes, a lot of stuff to keep people coming in the door.”
BFF will cater to both racers and transportation cyclists. “Part of our mission is to get more women out there commuting by bike,” Buccella said. The store may offer commuting workshops, as well as starter kits of accessories for new riders including a helmet, lock, patch kit, pump, and saddlebag.
Financing the endeavor has been a bit of a speed bump. “We haven’t been able to find a bank to give us a start-up loan,” Buccella said. However, they recently signed the lease on the storefront. “We have enough money to open, but not enough to cover ourselves in case we don’t make a profit in our first two months, which is what others have recommended.” Today they launched an Indiegogo page to raise an additional $12,000. Donors will get ten percent off their first purchase at BFF, plus their name on a thank-you wall in the shop.
According to the 2010 Census, 70 percent of people who bike to work in Chicago are male. Along with initiatives like better infrastructure, education and outreach, the opening of the city’s first woman-centric bike shop will be a pedal stroke in the right direction towards correcting that imbalance.