Tucked in the corner of the shopping center on Balboa Boulevard and PCH, (you know, the center with the infamous late night Jack-In-The-Box drive-thru and Circle K) is Chicago Bikes. No, really: it’s tucked into the corner—it’s essentially a door leading into a tiny room where gears and parts decorate the walls and custom bikes are showcased in the front. The other day, owner Tony Parry just needed to take a couple of steps from the back of his workspace to greet a customer who came in with his bike.
“That man’s been bringing his bike here since 1996,” says Parry, 56, who’s been running his business out of the same corner since the summer of 1990. “He’s always been a great customer.”
Parry’s interest in cycling blossomed while growing up in Oak Park, Chicago, as his bike was his main means of transportation. Although he loved the rush from riding around town, the physical act itself wasn’t what got him interested but rather the mechanics. “Before I joined the Army when I was 18, I didn’t know that I’d make a career out of fixing bikes,” Parry says. “I just knew that I loved them and was [mesmerized] by the how they worked.”
He served in the Airborne for eight years, stationed in Europe for most of his service. There, Parry got experience dismantling and reassembling bikes. “The Europeans have a way with their engineering,” he says. “The Italians make really quality bikes, and that’s where I got a lot of my technical knowledge.”
While talking about his life, he walks around Chicago Bike and shows how the Europeans have influenced his style of mechanics. “I made this rack out of the frame of an old bike so that I can stand up while working,” he says, pointing out the multiple bicycle frames fused onto the wall.
After leaving the Army, Parry got his first gig working at a bike store— similar to the one he’s working in now— in Chicago. “Thirty years ago,” I went back and toured Europe while helping the owner of the store I was working for fix bikes, and eventually I knew how bikes worked so well, that I needed to have my own store, and that’s what brought me here,” he says. “This is the bike store I’ve always wanted to have. I’ve never wanted to leave.”
“[Parry] wants to help everyone that comes in here,” says co-worker Ty Webster, who’s helped Parry run the store for the last five years. With a new website ready to launch and customers shuffling in and out of the store, Chicago Bikes is as lively as ever. “We’ve been able to stay around for the last 26 years because I don’t want to temporarily fix bikes, like a lot of the other repair shops do,” Parry says. “I want to solve the problem. I want to fix it…There’s one family who I fix three generations of bikes for. Customers bring their kids, who then bring their kids, who then bring their kids. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Chicago Bikes, 4525 West Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 650-4203; www.bikeshopnewportbeach.com