With the closing of Varsity Bike and Transit in Dinkytown, Steve Panizza’s lunch breaks will never be the same.
Panizza and his colleague would regularly visit the shop every other Thursday. For regulars, the staff provided not only the biking goods they needed but a personal touch.
“You go in there without any preconceived notions ... and you leave with an idea,” he said. “You can’t get that on the Internet.”
Varsity Bike and Transit, which first opened in 1995, announced its closing in a letter to community members last month. The shop will close its doors at the end of September. For both transient students and longtime regulars, the loss of a local business tugs at the ever-fading unique fabric of Dinkytown.
“I’ll totally miss the people … the people that come in day-to-day, and then the people that work,” said owner Rob DeHoff. “You feel like a community in Dinkytown.”
Changes in the area’s business landscape have made it harder for DeHoff to operate the bike shop. The emergence of scooters and ride-sharing services and the prominence of online retail have crowded the market, he said.
“The nature of Dinkytown is changing. It’s hard to describe it, but it’s very obvious … it has a much more homogeneous crowd,” he said. DeHoff said online retail and the area’s increasing car congestion are detrimental to the store.
Rents have increased, making it difficult for businesses that aren’t food vendors or chains to survive, said Chris Lautenschlager, executive director of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association.
Yet the store survived for 25 years despite the changes around it. Steve Sanders, the University of Minnesota’s alternative transportation manager, said that the store was one of the first to offer electric bikes in the area, which set it apart from other shops.
Competition in the University area included Erik’s Bike Shop, University of Minnesota Bike Center and Freewheel Bike.
With over 8,000 bikes on campus on any given nice day, bikes are still a significant form of transportation on campus, especially for students, Sanders said. Sam Syberg, a University student and store regular, said his way of life is “biking, no matter the weather” – a sentiment expressed by many of those who frequented the shop, including DeHoff.
The yellow-colored storefront will remain a memory for many who still continue to use its products. Looking at spare parts at the store’s liquidation sale, Panizza came across brightly-colored brakes.
“I didn’t need them, but just as kind of a reminder of them, I can say 'Well, that reminds me of Varsity,'” he said. “They bring their personality into the bike shop and that feeds into the community. Without that, you’re without one more element to draw off of.”