Ian Morrison’s parents gave him an ultimatum: Get rid of some bikes or you can’t get any more.
About 100 bikes overflowed from the shed, garage and porch of his parents’ Mechanicsburg home. The 20-something bike mechanic accumulated spare parts in a scrap pile in the backyard.
Unwilling to part with his collection, he created a third option. Morrison and his bikes moved to Midtown Harrisburg, where he joined forces with bike mechanics Andy Hollinger and Zach Spellman. They created the Underground Bike Shop, which will open Feb. 4 for a soft opening.
“It’s not going to be a big shindig,” Morrison said. “I’ll just be here consistently Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday working.”
Noting that the bike shop’s light is on whenever I walk down 3rd Street, I interjected, “Isn’t that already the case?”
“Yes, except I’m typically working seven days now, not six,” he said.
In October, Morrison and his team started renovating the space, the original locations for two other successful Midtown businesses: st@rtup and the Midtown Scholar Bookstore. Renovations will be nearly finished in February. A grand opening in April will kick off the spring biking season and celebrate the completion of the renovation.
The front area, which Hollinger jokingly dubbed the “chill zone,” will entice customers to hang out. Right now, a few comfortable couches and chairs circle a coffee table. A countertop lines the front window, like in a coffee shop. The team envisions customers munching on snacks and drinking tea or coffee. Local art will hang on the walls, and bands will perform.
“I want it to be an open environment where people can come in and do that and not feel pressure to buy a bike,” Morrison said.
Of course, the main attraction of the Underground Bike Shop is the bikes. Customers can have their bikes serviced or purchase used, newly rebuilt bikes costing $100 to $300.
The partners buy bikes from Craigslist and other buy-sell-trade agreements. They look for high-quality rides—like those found in a specialty bike shop, not department stores.
Then Morrison reduces the bike essentially to the frame and starts the rebuilding process. He leaves no surface untouched, putting 10 to 12 hours into a bike depending on its original state and the customer’s needs.
“I’d rather rebuild everything entirely and not short-cut it, even though I’m confident that everything will work,” he said.
Though the Underground Bike Shop specializes in used bikes, it will sell one new brand, Virtue Cycles. This California-based brand of city commuter bikes has a “hip, retro feel,” Hollinger said.
Zero to $350
When Morrison sold new bikes at a Harrisburg-area shop, he realized that expensive, quality products excluded a market of customers.
“There’s this zero to $350 range that is often met with places like department stores, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Wal-mart,” he said. “The problem with [those stores] that is you get a bike that isn’t good quality and needs work constantly.”
Before coming together, the two halves of the Underground Bike Shop team worked separately fixing up bikes for friends.
“We were basically doing the same model of finding used bikes, making them road ready, and selling them at a used price,” Hollinger said.
They worked out of basements, hence the name, “The Underground.”
In addition, Hollinger and Morrison both volunteered at Recycle Bicycle, an Uptown bike repair nonprofit run by Ross Willard, Harrisburg’s go-to bike guy.
“Recycle Bicycle is the closest thing to a bike shop that exists in the city of Harrisburg, and not everybody can afford to go to a nice bike shop to get their work done,” Hollinger said. “We intend to meet in the middle ground. Come have us do it for cheap.”
Their location across from HACC’s campus puts them in the heart of the Midtown neighborhood.
Morrison saw a neighboring building for sale while riding his usual route up Reily Street. After his inquiry for the neighboring building petered out, he was pointed toward this space after st@rtup moved to a much larger location down 3rd Street.
“I liked it because of its location right in between where Midtown is being revitalized commercially and residentially,” Morrison said. “It’s just enough space.”
Plus, ironically, there’s plenty of off-street car parking—just in case your new bike doesn’t fulfill all your transportation needs.
The Underground Bike Shop is scheduled to open Feb. 4 at 1519 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit the Facebook page.