Katie McQuaid's Scene in Manchester: Bike Barn owners glide with the times
July 27. 2018 11:12PM
Change doesn't scare Patrick and Tom Lessard. They’ve experienced plenty of it — changes in the city, changes in bike technology, and changes in the way people shop — since their dad opened The Bike Barn more than 40 years ago. The brothers keep rolling along, and keep Manchester rolling along, with new bikes and bike repairs.
Their latest big change was a recent move from the Millyard to a new location at 252 Willow St. in Manchester. I stopped in for a tire repair this week and the brothers quickly captivated me with the shop’s history and their affection for Manchester and their new space.
“We were in love with the mills,” said Tom. “Fifteen years ago it wasn’t a bad place for retail.”
When they first moved from Maple Street to the Langer Place mill, there was no baseball stadium or Hilton Garden Inn, or 1,500 Southern New Hampshire University employees jockeying for limited parking spaces.
The Bike Barn is among dozens of Langer Place tenants being displaced to make room for a growing army of SNHU employees. But the Lessards have nothing but positive things to say about the change.
“We know it’s for the good of the city,” said Tom, adding that Langer Place landlord Dick Anagnost was very helpful in finding them a new place in one of his other properties.
Good old days
The brothers were two of eight siblings who grew up on Monroe Street. They all went to Webster Elementary School, Hillside Middle School and Central. They all delivered the Union Leader, by bike of course.
Tom’s eyes light up when he talks about his childhood in Manchester’s North End, spending all his paper route money on candy at Boys Market (now Angela’s Pasta & Cheese Shop), and eating it all before he got home. Siblings will steal your candy.
Their father, Raymond Lessard, learned the art of bicycle repair by finding discarded bikes at the dump, fixing them up for his big brood.
“He taught us all how to fix bikes,” said Patrick.
Raymond, who died in 2002, wasn’t afraid of change, either. He left a job in insurance when he opened the original Bike Barn with his neighbor, Calvin Frost, in Frost’s garage on Monroe Street. His leap of faith built a business that has employed nearly all of his family members at one time or another.
Tom and Patrick are keeping their dad’s dream alive with the help of seven employees. Four are relatives “coming up the pipeline.” You can see them carefully working on bikes on a loading dock as soon as you pull into The Bike Barn parking lot. The family is delighting in the sunlight their new space lets in.
“We’ve been stuck inside with no windows for 15 years,” said Tom.
The new space also has much more room for test rides of the latest in bike technology. Hybrid bikes, good on the roads and the trails, are the biggest sellers right now. They also carry mountain bikes, road bikes and “fat bikes” with four-inch tires that, according to Tom, are so easy and comfortable to ride, “you feel like you’re 16 again.”
When I was in the shop this week, Tom and Patrick had just put in their first order for electric bikes, the fastest growing segment in the market.
It’s another big change for a company that’s been, “strictly pedal power,” said Patrick. But customers are begging for them, and the pedal assist bikes allow more people to ride.
“You have people with medical issues. They want to ride with their family, but maybe they have a respiratory issue,” he said.
Surviving a big change
The Bike Barn has also survived one of the retail industry’s biggest changes. The internet, Patrick said, has affected sales of accessories, but bikes are different.
“You still need to get on a bike. You still need to touch it, see it, ride it,” he said.
Besides, it’s bike repairs, not sales, that pay the bills. “Because the internet can’t fix your bike,” said Patrick.
Their dad always said, “service is the name of the game with bikes.” It’s one part of The Bike Barn the Lessards don’t plan on changing any time soon.