Beverly Bike & Ski Nears 100 Years at 91st and Western

By Carol Flynn 

 

BAPA’s Icon Collection is a series that celebrates our Iconic local businesses that have called Beverly/Morgan Park home for decades. We want to share the history of their business, the families that built them and the unique stories they want to share. 

 

Beverly Bike and Ski Inc. has always been more than just a shop selling bikes and renting skis in the neighborhood. In addition to being a hub for all things cycling and skiing, the business has helped define and bring attention to the Beverly/Morgan Park community. 

For 100 years, the business has stayed in the same location at 9121 S. Western Ave., and has had only three owners. 

The Kosar family started the business as the “Beverly Bicycle Shop” in the 1920s, and reportedly the son James Kosar called it “Jim’s Beverly Bicycle Shop” when he took it over from his parents. 

Bob Green took over as “Beverly Cyclery” and then “Beverly Schwinn Cyclery” in the 1970s. Paul and Kathleen Weise have owned the business since 1996. 

That the business has been successful for so long is testimony that the community appreciates the products and services that are provided. 

Paul Weise confirmed that customers have been coming back for generations.  “When I came in 1996, I sold bikes to little kids, and now they are in their forties and coming in to buy bikes for their kids. The community has been very supportive,” said Weise. 

Weise also shared one of his favorite encounters with a long-time customer at the shop.  “A little old man in his eighties came in looking for a part for his bike. He said he had been a shoeshine boy at the clubhouse at the Evergreen golf course across the street. He shined John Dillinger’s shoes. Dillinger was hanging out with his boys in a house on Halsted Street, and they would come over to the clubhouse and get a beer. The clubhouse was a speakeasy,” said Weise. 

That gentleman’s story rang true because that location to the west of Beverly/Morgan Park was well documented for its “extracurricular” activities during Prohibition. It was the kind of place that a bank robber like Dillinger could visit with no questions asked. Dillinger was killed by federal agents in 1934. 

That shoeshine boy might well have been a customer of the Kosars’ Beverly Bicycle Shop. That shop grew up with the biking industry and in Beverly. 

By 1900, the design of bicycles had evolved into the “safety bicycle” used today. Bikes had become a means of transportation and recreation for both sexes of all ages. The Good Roads Movement, fostered by bicyclists and automobile fanciers, had led to expansion and improvement of the country’s roads and streets. 

The 1920 U.S. Census lists James and Bessie Kosar and their family living at 9121 S. Western Ave. From directories and other sources from the time, it appears they ran a grocery there and started the bike shop, and their son, also named James, eventually took over the business. 

Western Avenue was very rural then. In 1922, Western was graded, widened, and paved into the thoroughfare it is today. The Ridge Historical Society has a photo of the paving work at 93rd Street and Western Avenue in 1922, showing the building that housed the Kosar family and their businesses in the background. 

According to Weise, part of the original store and original wooden floor still exist. 

“That’s where the basement is, and when you go downstairs you can tell that it’s really old construction. I keep that floor in its natural state so when people come in, they can see where the original store was,” said Weise. 

As automobiles became the norm for adult transportation, bicycles became the major source of escapism for children during the 1940s to the 1970s. Then, there was a “bike boom” for adults due to an increased interest in exercise and the need for energy efficiency stemming from issues in the oil industry. 

Bob Green was the proprietor of Beverly Cyclery during those years. According to Weise, the shop could hardly keep up with the demand. 

“As people came into the shop, you got a number to be waited on. When your number was called, you said the model, size, and color bike you wanted, and they went and got it for you,” said Weise. The mechanics were constantly busy in the back putting new bikes together. Schwinn was a major brand, and a bike dealer won a plaque for selling 1,000 Schwinn bikes in a year. When Weise bought the store, he found an old box full of Schwinn plaques. 

Paul and Kathleen Weise modernized the business when they bought it in 1996. 

To engage customers, “we really needed to move the bike shop to a different level,” said Weise, who noted that bike shops on the North side were even offering food and beer. 

They knocked down walls to go from showing 50 to 100 bikes on the sales floor. They invested in bike art and autographs to decorate the walls. A big screen TV showed movies of races. 

They started the winter side of the business, with ski and snowshoe rentals and sales and skate blade sharpening. Patrons regularly gathered at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoons to get equipment and head over to Dan Ryan Woods. 

Importantly, they began to engage more in community activities. 

They started their own racing team, the Beverly Bike-Vee Pak Racing Team, which was very successful. They hosted the Chicago Cyclocross Cup in Dan Ryan Woods, creating one of the most technically challenging courses. 

They worked with the Beverly Area Planning Association to bring the Beverly Cycling Classic to the community. The shop and the Beverly Bike-Vee Pak Racing Team returned as presenting sponsors year after year for this exciting event. 

They continue as a long-time sponsor of the American Cancer Society Walk and Roll. 

They accomplished all this while still offering their core service – complete bike mechanics on all brands of bikes. 

And now, after spending just about his entire life around bikes, Weise, 68, has announced his retirement and has put Beverly Bike and Ski Inc. up for sale. He is looking for a buyer who will carry on with the shop’s traditions. The current employees are willing to stay on. If a new owner is not found, in September Weise will decide about closing the shop. 

“It’s been a really tough decision to make. We gave up everything to buy this shop and I’m hanging on as long as I can,” said Weise. 

For now, with spring here, business goes on. 

“We’re already really cooking. People come to us from all over the suburbs and from Indiana. The people I have working here are really good. I’m more than willing to help anyone who comes in,” said Weise. 

It’s time for Beverly/Morgan Park’s bike shop to start the next chapter of its history. 

Let’s hope this isn’t the end of the story. 

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