Local bike shop owner looks back on 47 years of service | News

Around 1975, Larry Barnhart found himself driving along East Boulevard, getting tired of his back and forth from his job at Logansport and looking for something different.

He then stumbled upon what he described as a shiny new building that looked “mechanical,” and he stopped to submit his application.

A few weeks later – having completely forgotten about this application at the time – Barnhart received a call from the owner of this shiny new building.

“The man (on the phone) said, ‘This is Glen from Kokomo Schwinn (Kokomo Cycling),'” Barnhart recalled. “I said, ‘Who?’ He said I had applied and I said, “Oh, yeah.” He then asked me if I could do an interview, so I did.

And Barnhart, who didn’t even own a bike at the time, has been around ever since.

Last week, the Tribune stopped by Kokomo Cycling — Indiana’s first total-concept Schwinn store — to chat with Barnhart about his nearly half-century of experience in the bike industry.

And the man – who took over ownership in 2005 – was fully in his element.

“It’s a fun place,” Barnhart said, switching between talking and working with another employee on a nearby bike. “I never really considered it working. I mean, I was able to come in and play with bikes for a living.

Shortly after joining Kokomo Cycling, Barnhart, a service manager at the time, was sent to Schwinn Service School.

The program was a concentrated week-long program which Barnhart said had been made easier by the fact that Bateman had already taught him pretty much everything he needed to know.

Then, when Bateman retired in 1985, Barnhart said it was actually written in the new owner’s contract that Barnhart would stay with the business.

“So I literally became a staple here,” he laughed. “And really, from about 1985, it became my store anyway.”

And Barnhart has also seen a lot over the past 47 years, from the “10-speed bike boom” of the 1970s to the BMX and mountain bike craze a few years ago.

But nothing prepared him for what Kokomo Cycling went through during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was intense,” Barnhart said. “Until the start of COVID, the biggest day we ever had when it came to bike sales was a random Saturday in February at the time. It was 80 degrees that week. That Saturday, things got crazy. I sold 16 bikes out the door that day.

“But when COVID hit, we closed for a month, and when we finally reopened, we opened for half days,” he added. “Four hours. And those first two Saturdays, we had 17 bikes every Saturday coming out. People were just pulling them off the shelves. In two weeks, we had sold out all the bikes in the store.

Barnhart cited the area’s multiple trails and a simple desire to be outdoors amid a pandemic as possible reasons for the surge in sales.

“Pretty soon we only had five bikes in the whole store,” he said with a smile. “Four of them were tiny 12-inch bikes, and one of them was electric. And it’s been like that ever since. … Honestly, we sold a year’s worth of bikes in two weeks. But then we really didn’t sell anything after that.

Another byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic that Barnhart said he noticed was the number of people bringing in their bikes for repair work.

“Every dusty, cobwebbed old bike in every garage or old warehouse, we started seeing them,” he laughed. “We started seeing some of the baddest bikes that hadn’t been ridden in 20 years, but people wanted them fixed so they could ride them again. So this first year (of the pandemic) was huge in repairs. The racks out front where we usually had the bikes that were for sale, they were all full of repairs because we were running out of space in the back.

And while business now appears to be back to normal and has slowed down a bit since the initial chaos of 2020, Barnhart has not.

He jokes that his wife keeps asking him when he’s going to retire, but why would he, he wonders.

“I can’t imagine not coming here every day,” he said, scanning the store for a minute. “…I’m more than happy to tell people about the fact that this is the first total concept store for Schwinn built in Indiana. I even still have the golden scissors inside since some members of the Schwinn family came for the opening. And I’m really proud of this whole story.

Barnhart said he’s also proud that while you can buy a bike at a “big box store, the experience of buying one from Kokomo Cycling is just different.

“One of the concepts that Schwinn put in when creating these types of stores was to make them a destination bike store,” he said. “It wasn’t just part of a hardware store or a section of a large general store. We do not sell keys or lawn mowers. And while department stores have taken over much of our business, you know what we’re doing when you see the Schwinn name. »

“And I always thought it was kind of funny that people used to call Glen (Bateman) ‘Mr. Schwinn,'” Barnhart said with a smile. Someone will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you’re the guy from Schwinn.’ And that makes me feel good.”

Maria R. Newman