My last day in Portland, a few weeks back, I woke up early and went for a walk in the pre-dawn dark. After grabbing an Americano at Crema, I began meandering back to my guest-house, when the skies opened, and I found myself under a full-on down-pour.
It had been drizzling pretty much the whole time I was in Portland, but I quickly learned that true Portlandians just ignore drizzle. (In fact, I stopped using my umbrella the first day when I sheepishly realized no one else used one. I was made to feel like a wuss holding that thing over my head.) But that was a mere mist; this was real rain. Looking for shelter, I ducked into the nearest place with lights on, which happened to be Universal Cycle. It was 6:45 am. And the place was open for business.
Now, maybe this is common is some parts of the world, but where I come from, bike stores open at 9:30, 10:00, sometimes 11:00 in the morning. I’ve never heard of a bike shop that opens before the sun comes up. It’s an entirely new concept for me. So I asked the guy who was working there what that was all about. Dude explained that they started doing this a couple of years ago for two reasons.
First, Universal is located on NE Ankeny Street, a major bike commuting route connecting East Portland to downtown. Starting about 5:30 am on weekdays, a steady stream of blinking lights can be seen trucking along this quiet residential street. Potential customers, hundreds of them, are rolling right past the shop and sometimes they need stuff or have a moment to drop in en route to work.
Second, Universal runs an online business out of the warehouse attached to the shop, and, as part of that business, they always have someone onsite to answer the phone. Since someone is there anyway, the owners thought, why not open the store for all those a.m. commuters and see what happens? It worked. In fact, it’s worked so well that a few other bike shops in Portland have followed Universal’s lead and started opening at 7 am. (No one else has dared to open as early as Universal.)
It’s unconventional but also smart. Lots of cyclists are up and at it early, so why not give them the option to shop when no one else is open? I realize, however, that it’s the kind of thing that’s only really possible in a city with an advanced and sizable bike commuting culture and infrastructure. I’m not saying it could work in Edmonton. At least not any time soon.
At about 7:15 the rain stopped. I walked away from the titanium Beargrease I’d been circling, bought a tube and some gels, and headed back to the guest-house as the sun was coming up, my shopping for the day already done.