One of Hellertown’s landmark Main Street businesses is celebrating a special anniversary this month. Saucon Valley Bikes, which opened in September 1999, is marking its 20th anniversary with specials and a raffle to win the most popular bike it sells: the Giant Sedona DX. (The drawing to win that bike will be held Tuesday, Oct. 1.)
It’s no easy feat to thrive in a retail marketplace that is constantly changing–with ever-increasing competition from online retailers–and to do so for two decades in a small town without a significant retail base is even more of a challenge.
Saucon Valley Bikes owner Steve LaBrake said it’s only natural for him to be passionate about the community he also calls home, and he credited his passion for all things local with some of his bike shop’s success.
“I eat, drink and shop locally for a reason,” he said.
Small businesses like his, LaBrake said, are the principal supporters of many of the events that local residents hold dear; annual events such as Hellertown’s Light Up Night, the Music in the Park summer series and the upcoming Saucon Harvest festival.
Local businesses also sponsor youth sports teams, support artistic and extracurricular activities in local schools and contribute in a variety of other ways to the communities they call home.
“It is the local businesses sponsoring these events,” LaBrake stressed. “I understand you can buy cheaper, but do…you see the ‘big box’ stores doing any of this? No.”
LaBrake recalled that back in the late 1990s, he was working at Hechinger’s–a defunct lumber and hardware chain–when he made the decision to start his own small business.
At that time he was also mountain biking, competing in local races and spending up to 15 hours on rides.
However, it was an experience that made him contemplate his own mortality that helped illuminate the proverbial light bulb over his head.
“I went down to Langhorne to visit a good, young (late 30s) friend at the hospital, who was dying from cancer,” he remembered. “On my way home I stopped at a bike shop, kind of in the middle of nowhere. I was thinking that if they can pull this off why can’t I?”
“My friend dying was that check in life as in, ‘Do I want to hate my job or do I want to pursue a passion?'” he explained.
“It took a while for me to introduce my plan to (my wife) Kim. After I did she was apprehensive, but supportive,” he continued. “Within a year I opened Saucon Valley Bikes.”
Originally the store was located in the 600 block of Main Street. Later, Saucon Valley Bikes briefly relocated to the building that now houses Doggy Dao & Cat’s Meow, before finally finding a permanent home in its present location at 824 Main Street.
And why was Hellertown chosen as the location for the shop in the first place?
LaBrake said that in researching where to open his business, he looked at a map that listed bike shop locations throughout the area.
“There was a big hole in this area of the Lehigh Valley,” he said. “It just made sense. We lived here. I was driving to Nazareth to go to a shop that I liked, and I felt Hellertown could support a shop. I got lucky!”
Outside of running his business, LaBrake has also been active in his support for the development of the popular Saucon Rail Trail, which opened in 2011.
He serves on the rail trail’s oversight commission as a representative from Hellertown, and recently advocated for the municipalities through which the SRT passes to update their ordinances to allow for the use of e-bikes on it. Hellertown borough, Lower Saucon Township and Upper Saucon Township supervisors have approved the change, which LaBrake said will further enable individuals who due to age or disability might not otherwise have an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful trail, to do so.
In addition to selling bicycles and bike accessories, Saucon Valley Bikes also assembles and repairs them. In some cases they also reassemble bikes that were put together wrong.
“One thing we take pride in our bike builds,” LaBrake said. “We often have 15 or 16-year-olds building basic bikes for us, but they go through a lot of training, with another seasoned mechanic looking over that build and/or signing off on that build to make sure that it is up to our standards.”
“Every bike that we sell, you can see who built your bike,” he said. “We do this for accountability. If we find something wrong with that build, we know who to go back to, correct the situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
He noted that Saucon Valley Bikes provides a year of free adjustments and a free tune-up with every bike we sell, which he said is something big box and online retailers don’t do.
No doubt that is one of the reasons the business is still servicing some bikes they sold 20 years ago.
And what will Saucon Valley Bikes look like 20 years from now?
LaBrake was noncommital, but said the community can be assured that he “plans on being here for a while.”
For information about the current specials being offered as part of the 20th anniversary celebration at Saucon Valley Bikes, visit their website. You can also follow Saucon Valley Bikes on Facebook and Instagram.
The store is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.