Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles highlighting local businesses that go beyond what one might expect. They don’t just focus on the bottom line. They’re also concerned with building and improving community. This is our way of recognizing these business and hoping others will be inspired by their stories.
By Aaron Retherford
As you walk into the Vermont Bicycle Shop at 105 N. Main St. in Barre, you might think it looks like a typical bike shop.
Owner Darren Ohl might be working away on the line of bikes in need of repair. The latest and greatest bicycles are lined up neatly along the wall for sale, and there are even some discs for the disc golfers who share the trails with mountain bikers in the Barre Town Forest.
However, Ohl is not your typical bicycle shop owner. Before he officially opened his doors in April, he had his sights set of uniting Barre City and the surrounding communities. And while his means to that end has changed slightly, his goal of building community has not.
“My ultimate goal is rather than having a company loyalty program, we have a community loyalty program instead,” Ohl said. “We’ve made it so if you’ve volunteered more than 20 hours in the Barre area, you can have whomever you volunteered for write you a little letter, and we put you in the system so you can get 10 percent off products and accessories.
“It doesn’t seem like much for one business to do it, but I hope to see other businesses kind of do the same thing. Because if everyone is doing it, maybe that encourages a lot more people to volunteer…Our goal is to create a system that other businesses can see and think they should do that, too. Because there are a lot of places in Barre that need that volunteer effort.”
Granite City Grocery members are automatically entered into the bike shop’s loyalty program, which also allows members access to closeouts early.
Another way Ohl differentiates his shop from others is he doesn’t sponsor a race team. Instead, the bicycle shop’s team is made up of trail builders at Millstone Trails, giving them access to specialized high-end bicycles that only racers usually can access.
Ohl explained this in a recent Facebook post, “Vermont Bicycle Shop does not sponsor a racing team. Instead, our ‘Team’ discounts and benefits go to those amazing people who volunteer their time at Millstone Trails. They are a group of people who have literally changed our little world here in Barre for the better. They represent everything I love about Barre and I am so very proud to call them friends, to ride bicycles with them, and most of all, to be a part of honoring them.”
Of course there are the health benefits of cycling that Ohl’s store brings to the community, exhibited by the store’s motto of “Happiness & Health Thru Bicycles & Cycling.” But Ohl doesn’t just sell bicycles and send you on your merry way. He gets to know you as a cyclist, and will adjust your new bike until it fits you and your needs perfectly.
Ohl has also been working closely with hand cyclists who have mobility issues and cannot ride a two-wheeled bike comfortably or efficiently. He’s aiming to hold some rides focused around that group of riders because there is not much available in terms of organized riding.
While encouraging volunteerism is a key way Ohl’s shop is building community, he also encourages local cyclists to participate in the weekly community bike rides with Millstone Trails Association. But if you’re looking for more than just a typical ride, there’s Ohl’s Adventure Club. The “adventures” include an overnight camping trip along with bike rides to and from the campgrounds. Ohl hopes to make them monthly outings next year.
“The idea was to have it be open to people who had never done anything like it before. Ninety percent of the people who joined us had not, so it really opened up people to how easy they could go out and have these adventures in Vermont,” Ohl said.
For more information on Vermont Bicycle Shop, visit its website or stop on by the shop during its new winter business hours: Wed-Fri 9:30-6:30, Sat 9-4, and Sun 10-2.