We’re moving! As new members of the Logan Square community, we’re talking with some of our favorite businesses about why they love their neighborhood (read our interviews with The Dill Pickle and Bric-a-Brac, too!) Follow the progress of our new mixed use commercial retail and loft apartment, Logan Certified, on our blog. We’ve renovated and refreshed Logan Certified from its humble beginnings as a food and liquor store and have space to rent. The building had fallen into disrepair on the outside, but upon exploration, we found many salvageable elements and of course kept the “bones” of the building, a crucial component of our favoring adaptive reuse over the generally more wasteful demo/rebuild cycle. Our third featured new neighbor is Kevin Womac, owner of Boulevard Bikes, which is moving after a fourteen year tenure underneath Logan Auditorium. The bike shop has been a local favorite for a long time, having opened just a handful of years after Logan’s iconic Lula Cafe. Don’t forget to check out our other interviews in this series with The Dill Pickle, Bric-a-Brac and Antique to Chic.
Kevin Womac has been in the Square since 1999, where he got his start in professional bicycle shops at Rapid Transit (RIP). He wanted to open a modern cycle shop to cater to Logan Square’s dedicated year-round cyclist community, and found his home right on the boulevards. While you may not find messenger bags at Boulevard Bikes (Womac says for long commutes one should let the bike do the work; he’s passionate about panniers), you will find a carefully curated selection of new and used bike brands and products that Womac believes in and has tested. Although Logan Auditorium is expanding its accessibility by adding an elevator (so BB will move out come September) the shop will remain in the community; keep up with Womac on his website to find out where to visit him next!
HOW DID YOU GET INTO CYCLING?
My dad and siblings are all mechanically inclined. When I was ten or eleven I would take my dad’s tools and take my bikes apart, clean them, and put them back together during the summers. One of my best friends got me a job in a bike shop during college, where I apprenticed. I got paid $5 an hour, which wasn’t much but living in Urbana was cheap. This was 20 years ago.
HOW DID BOULEVARD BIKES BEGIN?
When I moved to Chicago I didn’t really have a plan. I started working at Rapid Transit in Wicker Park and stayed there for five years. Then I think I had a bad day at work, and the next day was the aldermanic elections. I was at the polling place, shaking hands for Rey Colon, when I realized that the current alderman was going to lose and there would be a vacant storefront right on the boulevard. I talked to the landlord and we opened in 2003.
Since then it’s just kind of taken care of itself. I used to say it was like shooting fish in a barrel. You put bikes in Logan Square and people buy ‘em. Boulevard Bikes started with a boom, and then just kind of plateaued.
WHAT DREW YOU TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD?
When I was at Rapid Transit, I already lived up here. We had a POS system where I’d enter people’s names and addresses. I kept realizing how many people lived in Logan Square, and that it could use a bike shop.
I used to live around the corner at Albany Avenue, between Kedzie and Fullerton. There were already eight year round critical mass cyclists living on that block. I started the shop with their support and mentoring. I’ve lived in the neighborhood since 1999. In 2005, I moved to the other side of Kedzie and I’ve been there ever since.
HAS THE NEIGHBORHOOD CHANGED IN TERMS OF CYCLING CULTURE SINCE YOU OPENED?
I mentioned a lot of critical mass people used to live on my block. We don’t have as many diehard, year-round cyclists as we used to. People ride their bikes in the summertime, but they’re car or transit users. There was the perfect storm of cyclists and the need for a bike shop when I opened.
HOW DO YOU THINK THAT YOUR SHOP HAS SHAPED THE COMMUNITY?
My friend Alex, who used to also live on Albany, started West Town Bikes and he’s created a whole community around tinkering on bikes; he’s got a classroom set up. I’ve taught classes here, but it’s hard to do that after a 10-hour workday. And unfortunately, that sort of nerdy culture doesn’t exist in Logan Square as much.
A lot of my friends that were Critical Masser’s, we all had kids at the same time. So we started Kidical Mass here. We meet in Palmer Square. My oldest daughter is nine, but when she was three she was on training wheels. It was great to see a bunch of little kids being corralled by their parents down the streets of Logan Square. Now the kids are older and they can ride on their own. We take them up on the 606 and tell them to stop at the end of the trail. It’s a fun inclusive event.
HOW DOES THE COMMUNITY AFFECT WHAT YOU STOCK HERE?
I’m still a traditionalist. I don’t sell many messenger bags. I could have made a fortune just selling those. Messenger bags make your back all sweaty. I actually use one, but I don’t ride very far. If you’re gonna ride all the way to The Loop with a bag full of stuff five days a week in the hot summer, using a pannier is much better. So we sell racks and panniers, and a few messenger bags. We try to get people to use their bikes to do the work. But because of that kind of attitude, we’ve kind of missed out on the young, 20-something hip crowd that all want messenger bags. I think people appreciate what we have to offer though. I have great employees.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE THINGS TO DO IN LOGAN SQUARE?
I think one of the coolest things that ever happened in the neighborhood was Red Moon’s Halloween Festival. The grassy boulevards were just lined on both sides with activities and performances.
There’s so much great architecture here; I like the boulevards and walking in the neighborhood. There’s tons of grassy open space where you can walk or have a picnic or play bocce ball. The farmer’s market is great. For the last ten years I was on the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce. We helped create it, but it’s its own thing now. When my kids were younger, it was our Sunday tradition to bring them there and let them play. Now everything else is happening—you know, life [laughs]. Now it’s no longer a two hour visit.
Raising kids in the neighborhood is also a fun thing to do. A lot of people leave the neighborhood when their kids are in pre-school. They want to get out of CPS and move to Oak Park or Evanston. But there are a lot of good families with kids and great schools in this neighborhood.
ANY OBSERVATIONS ON THE CYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE IN CHICAGO?
There are bike lanes everywhere. I used to feel that as a confident bike rider, I didn’t need them. I was afraid that if we created these bike lanes, we were going to be relegated to them. But that hasn’t really been the case; it actually offers a lot of confidence. I feel a lot safer. I think a lot of people that would never have commuted on a bike in the city before find that bikes lanes make their commute easier. The one big problem that has come up is when the city signed the parking meter deal, they cut down all the parking meters, which could lock up two bikes each. All of the sudden there was this gigantic loss of bike racks. The city also got stiffed on how much money we made. We lost a lot of infrastructure in that sense.
I’ve never used Divvy, but I think it’s great. A lot of my customers at Boulevard Bikes use it to supplement their cycling. They don’t want to use their nice bike in the wintertime.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BIKING?
The freedom. Maybe also the exercise. But the freedom to go door to door. Not being stuck in traffic is very nice. I also use my bike to get off the beaten track. You can do that with your feet but it takes a lot longer. The 606 is pretty great, although twenty years ago, it was an awesome mountain bike trail and a place to get away from the neighborhood. I was sad to see it go, but the new trail is pretty awesome. It’s not a dead straight line, which I was afraid of. It’s got undulations; It’s landscaped very nicely.