Barnard’s Scwhinn still a ‘real bicycle shop’ after 101 years
Jeff Hajduk, co-owner, is the third generation serving Oak Park cyclists at Barnard’s Schwinn. | Meredith Morris~For Sun-Times Media
What’s for Sale?
The most popular general-use bikes Barnard’s Schwinn sells are hybrids, which start at about $350, and cruisers, which start at about $250, employee Eddy Blaszczyk said. Childrens’ bikes start at about $200 and come in several sizes, including starter bikes large enough to help children who start riding at an older age or are having a hard time getting the hang of it.
For very young children, cyclist parents can find a range of bike trailers to pull their kids, including one that’s a small bike on an extension arm, designed for kids to help pedal or just ride along.
Helmets and other accessories are also in demand; it’s recommended cyclists replace their helmets every five years because that’s the lifespan of their styrofoam lining. Helmets run about $60 and include the Nutcase brand that’s hot now among skateboarders.
Popular saddle bags include models that can serve as purses and then affix to the side of a bike. Barnard’s also carries a full array of Chicago-appropriate rain and cold weather gear – down to the toe-warmers.
Updated: September 24, 2012 5:56PM
OAK PARK — A Yelp search for “best shopping” in Oak Park yields Barnard’s Schwinn as the highest consumer-rated destination.
Oak Parkers who don’t often venture that far north might wonder what they’re missing. Simply the “Best. Bike. Shop. Ever,” according to one Yelp reviewer.
Another praises, “the guys who run this place have experience dating back to cycle antiquity.”
That’s a lot of know-how about bikes.
Barnard’s Schwinn Cycling and Fitness Center, 6109 W. North Ave., is a third-generation family run shop owned by brothers Jeff and Greg Hajduk. Now in its 101st year, the store was founded by the brothers’ great uncle, Robert E. Barnard, at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Lake Street. The shop eventually passed to Barnard’s nephews, William “Tiny” and Henry “Shorty” Ganshaw.
“Back in the old days, it was like a general store,” Jeff Hajduk said. Customers came for locksmith services, electrical appliances, sporting goods and Indian and Harley Davidson motorcycles, in addition to bikes.
The bike-centric shift occurred in the 1950s and stuck. Barnard’s offers stacked tiers of different bike makes and models, and cycling accessories.
A brief blip in family ownership occurred in the the late 1970s, when the uncles retired but the Hajduk brothers were too young to assume the store. A Schwinn sales representative bought Barnard’s and discovered managing it took more than he’d expected. Through a default in contract, the shop fell to the Hajduks in 1982, Jeff Hajduk said.
“At the age of 8, I had my first flat tire,” Jeff Hajduk said. “My mom and dad took me to Oak Park and my Uncle Tiny sat me down and said, ‘You’re going to learn to fix a flat.’ I thought it was so cool. I wanted to do that.”
Today, customers and employees consider the brothers master bike mechanics.
“We pride ourselves on being a real bicycle shop,” Hajduk said. “If you come in with a 2-year-old, we’ll take care of your 2-year-old. We’re not a boutique.”
In addition, they’ll take care of cyclists seeking custom bikes and people with special needs.
For instance, store employee Eddy Blaszczyk said three-wheel bikes are a great choice for adults with balance issues. He also recalled helping a cyclist with a hand-strength issue by moving the brake from one handle bar to the other, to accommodate the stronger hand.
Custom bikes, a Barnard’s specialty, start at about $2,500 and allow enthusiasts to select their bike frame, tires, rims and other components.
“It’s like a Brooks Brothers suit; totally custom,” Blaszczyk said, explaining that these individually assembled bikes are used for longer-distance touring or commuting.
Another special service is bike restoration, for people who want to keep a bike but in more rideable condition. Barnard’s will rechrome, repaint and reoutfit vintage bikes that leave the shop looking like new.
Despite these custom options, however, when you ask the staff what sets Barnard’s apart from other bike shops, it’s attitude.
“The personalities of the people who work here is what’s different,” Blaszczyk said. “We’re all riders, we’re all enthusiasts.”
They are also all – or nearly all – deeply connected. Blaszczyk grew up a few doors down from the Hajduk brothers. Another brother, Kenny, also works at the shop. Bill Stach, an employee, grew up in the same community.
“It’s like a clubhouse here. We’re back in the ‘hood again, if you will,” Stach said, adding that the camaraderie extends to customers, some of whom will join the team for a beer after the workday.
“I like taking care of the people,” Jeff Hajduk said. “You buy a bike and you’re part of the family.”
When people come in seeking bike realignment or repair, he added, “We’re not about taking advantage of customers. We’re about doing the right thing to make it work again.”