Keeping it local at 48th and Chicago

bikes 017BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE

Mike Kmiecik (pronounced ki-mick) is the proprietor of Bikes and Pieces, currently operating in the storefront right by the corner of 48th and Chicago. He is also the visible and active leader of SCABA, the South Chicago Avenue Business Alliance. SCABA was launched over 30 years ago, by Dick Pitheon, owner of Dick’s Metro Flooring, now at 5611 Chicago Avenue. The initial impetus was the incursion in the 1970s of so-called “big box” stores and the pressure they put on small, local businesses. Other highly localized business associations have sprung up in the interim in other places, but SCABA remains one of the oldest, with amazing success in promoting a relatively small area. In the late 1990s, a further pressure on the small and local came from the rise of online purchasing. At about that time, SCABA expanded its coverage area from just one block each way around 48th and Chicago to cover Chicago Avenue from 42nd Street to the block south of 56th Street.
Southside Sprint. Photo by Lardy PhotographyThe main aims of the business alliance are to encourage and enable prospective business owners to consider South Chicago Avenue as a location, and to encourage and promote the patronage of these businesses by area residents. One of the main events sponsored by SCABA, an early idea of Dick Pitheon’s, is a car show which takes place in early summer each year. Hot-rods, classic antique vehicles, art-cars, or whatever are entered into the competition for trophies and take part in a car parade. There is also a beer garden, and a kid’s car-painting station where kids paint a 1940s-era Chrysler with water-based paint.
SCABA has close ties with the area’s neighborhood organization,Field Regina Northrop Neighborhood Group (FRNNG.) The neighborhood group also has a major event, in the fall. Called “Night on 48th,” it’s a family-friendly “taste of” type fair and fundraiser. There are lots of well-known names in the food and drink business on the corner and in the SCABA membership—Turtle Bread, Sovereign Grounds Coffee Shop, Adrian’s Tavern, Town Hall Tap, Levan’s Bistro, and Bigga Pizza. And let’s not forget Pepito’s, which, besides serving fun Mexican food, is also in the movie theater business. Pepito’s Parkway Theatre is host to the very popular “Dr. Who” meet-up group, which gathers there monthly to watch the iconic British TV show on the big screen. Other SCABA members include Ray N. Welter, Minnehaha Animal Hospital, Southside Chiropractic, Innovative Insurance, Rue 48 Salon, Minnesota Sword Club, Wings Financial, Patrick Nau Photography and Sassy Knitwear.
Bikes and Pieces is a relative newcomer to the corner. Mike has had his shop for about six years, the first four in the space next door to Sovereign Grounds, now occupied by a kiddie boutique, and the past two years in a storefront with a distinctive striped awning facing Chicago Avenue. The shop is a cheerful clutter of bicycle works-in-progress, bike parts and paraphernalia, a mellow, elderly female mastiff-lab mix dozing on the floor, buckets of kids toys, and works of art. These latter are presumably the “Pieces” referred to in the business name. Some are made by Mike, and some are on consignment from other artists. The most distinctive are the upcycled bike-part sculptures, which resemble bison skulls. There are also some newly created industrial-motif mobiles, also made from mostly bike hardware, along with some more conventional art. Mike was a stay-at-home dad for a few years before opening his shop, and he has kids—his own and their friends—hanging out in the shop weekdays after school and throughout the summer. He’s teaching his eldest daughter his bicycle-building skills, trying to hit that sweet spot between when they’re eager to help but not quite old enough, and when they are old enough, but starting to think it’s another chore. But even if Mike’s daughter doesn’t end up being a master bike mechanic, I am sure both kids are getting valuable lessons—in people skills, entrepreneurism and community.
The other thing Mike does, purely for love, is the organizing and hosting of the Southside Sprint, a much-loved, though fairly new (2015 was its fifth year), criterium-style bicycle race. This occurs in mid-July of each year and starts just outside Bikes and Pieces at the corner of 48th & Chicago. This race is a big deal in bike circles. It has grown in its short life to attracting scores of eager racers in all the categories, and also includes a kids race, a beginners racing clinic, music, food, family fun activities and an “athletes village.” The winners in each class receive cash prizes, and the event is sponsored by SCABA, FRNNG, and an impressive lineup of businesses great and small.
All things considered, Mike and his business are a great example of how local businesses are so much more than just a service or a place to transact business. Bicycle racing, neighborhood festivals, bike maintenance, old dogs and children, car shows and art—all these things add up to a great community. Keeping it local doesn’t just mean keeping it small.

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