Manifesto: Not your everyday bike shop
on March 9, 2009
The bike store Manifesto has a Flickr photo account, “Our customers rock,” which is full of photos of people posing with their bicycles. People smiling standing next to their bikes, slowly riding by, triumphantly raising the bike over their heads — all photos of Manifesto’s customers with their new bikes.
Each photo is captioned with lines like, “Austin sealed the deal on a red Schwinn that many were coveting on opening day,” “This beautiful Mercier, nicknamed Pierre, is now Casey’s ride” and “Nicole picked up this Ladies Peugeot with a lift-off Wald basket for Mother’s Day.”
Manifesto, on 40th street in Temescal, is about to celebrate its one-year birthday, and despite the downturn in the economy, business is good. Customers constantly come in and out of the store, even on rainy days. And that’s in part due to the store’s relatively innovative business model: The owners have turned this bike shop into a community-based business and as a result, the community has kept them in business.
“People seem to like us for some reason,” says Sam Cunningham, one of two co-owners of Manifesto, as he tightens the bolts around a white fixed-gear bike on his work stand. His wife, the other co-owner, MacKay Gibbs nods in agreement as she nurses their newborn, Henry.
It’s true, people seem to like them. Manifesto’s Yelp reviews are glowing endless odes of love unmarred by negative reviews. A reoccurring theme throughout the reviews is the niceness of the owners and staff.
Which sounds so-what, unless you’re a regular cyclist and know that bike shops usually work differently. Regular cyclists are accustomed to dealing with pretentiousness or judgmental and condescending clerks and mechanics. Manifesto, customers seem to agree, breaks this bike shop rule.
The shop is a small store with immaculately displayed bikes, and feels more like an art gallery than a sporting goods store. Rows of minimally branded colorful frames and bikes hang from the wall on one side of the shop, clothes and gear — a “bicycling is beautiful” poster, Bern helmets, Brooks saddles, Chrome messenger bags, Campagnolo caps, and even artsy buttons with a needlepoint of a bicycle sewn in — line the other.
A couple of years ago, Cunningham and Gibbs drove a 40-foot RV from Sacramento to Idaho. After spending 10 solid days on the road together and slightly crashing only once, they decided to open a bike shop.
“We were toying with the idea of doing something, but we didn’t know what,” says Gibbs. “On the trip we took notes and made plans.”
Cunningham has worked on bikes as a hobby since he was nine, and when he started dating Gibbs, he says, he built her a “fancy light-weight 3-speed.” When all of their friends saw her bike, they wanted Cunningham to build bikes for them too.
“He had a whole waiting list of friends wanting bikes,” Gibbs says.
Gibbs had just finished her MBA from San Francisco State and always wanted to have her own business. “Finally it dawned on us,” she says.
They took their savings, which they were planning to use to buy a house, and decided to keep renting and pour it all into Manifesto. They spent eight months doing all the work themselves, re-doing the floors, ceilings, painting and getting the shop ready to open.
“We decided it wouldn’t be a typical bike shop,” says Cunningham.
“We wanted the feeling of the shop to be like a skate shop,” Gibbs says, “where people come in to hang out.”
Along with selling bikes, they decided to have events and partner with nonprofit groups. They host art openings every couple of months, have “women’s wrench night” the first Monday of every month (during which women can come in, ask questions, work on their bikes and swap stories), and host “bike church” on Sunday mornings, where they serve free coffee and play old gospel music while friends, customers, and passers-by drop in, talk, and work on their bikes.
Manifesto also works with Cycles of Change, an East Oakland group that teaches inner city youth how to ride and fix bicycles; Cunningham and Gibbs donate used bike parts and give Cycles of Change their event proceeds.
The neighborhood feeling, and the way Manifesto has nourished a community centered around bike riding, keep the store crowded.
“Manifesto does not discriminate, alienate, or in any way judge any bicyclists,” the store’s mission statement says. “All riders, new and old, experienced and beginner, occasional and everyday, are welcome in our shop. We believe every person riding a bike creates more power for the movement overall.”
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