CLEVELAND - When Jef Janis left the insurance business last year, he never imagined the art gallery he would open with his uncle would morph into a bike shop.
“We opened up an art gallery and we didn’t sell anything,” Kelvin Tate, Janis’ uncle said. “It looks good, but we didn’t sell anything.”
Self-described pickers, Tate found some vintage bicycles at an estate sale. Janis’ has a knack for fixing bikes. Those two skills combined and they put their bikes on display in the gallery’s window.
“Within three days, they were gone,” Janis said. “We got five more and they were gone before the end of the week.”
That was last summer. Now the shop has more than 500 bicycles. Art can still be found at their Simpler Times Bicycle Gallery, but bikes pay the bills, and they hang among the photographs and paintings.
They understand not everyone has the money to buy an expensive bike, so they offer bikes for an affordable price. They will take items in trade for bikes.
“We made a conscious decision that we would keep bikes between $50 to $200 on a normal basis,” Janis said.
Both men have a passion for vintage bikes and the companies, some of them from Cleveland, that made these classics.
Looking around the gallery, you can see bikes with tail fins, sleek headlights, banana bikes and tandems. Most, but not all, of the bikes are for sale. The owners find some treasures just too dear to sell.
Janis pointed to a shelf with four Schwinn Stingray bikes. When Tate was a boy, he wanted one, but as one of six children, his family couldn’t afford one.
“He made a promise to himself,” Janis said, “when we did this that he would get himself a Schwinn Stingray and you notice there’s four of them up there.”
Janis found his gallery outgrew its walls and was able to acquire a back room, in the West 25th Street space on Cleveland’s west side, to house his growing business.
Moving a blue Raleigh 10-speed, he surveyed the room filled with bikes, some new, still in their original boxes. New-old stock, as he called them.
“As you can see, the bike really did take over,” he said. “Went from five to 500 with everything from road bikes to the old cruisers.”
Craftsmanship being what it was years ago, vintage bikes, given some minor repairs, can be expected to last decades more, not so of some modern-day counterparts.
Tate became nostalgic recalling the proud past of American-made bicycles in an era when many department and discount stores sell cheaper-imported bikes.
“When we find the vintage bikes, the old ones that are so American to me and so beautiful, they’re our past and we just want to save them,” Tate said. “They’re just so classy to have.”
Simpler Times Vintage Bicycle Gallery 3212 West 25th St., south of Clark Avenue is open Wednesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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