With the arrival of Spring and the fine weather that comes with it, North Enders are going outside and getting active with a Spring in their step. One of the friendliest places to get geared up for the outdoors is Cyclesmith on Agricola Street.
Upstairs overlooking the bike shop, behind a sturdy wooden desk you’ll find owner Andrew Feenstra smiling in his office.
Andrew has competed and coached cycling all over the world, but at home in Halifax is where he’s made it his heartfelt mission to bring freedom to the people.
“It’s a taste of freedom to ride a bike,” Andrew says, “it’s your first accomplishment by yourself as a kid, when you leave your parents behind, you can go greater distances without getting in trouble.”
That’s how he started out cycling, on a tricycle riding around his family’s duplex chasing his three older sisters. Growing up in Dartmouth in a family of six with three rooms in the house, Andrew’s appreciation for freedom has only grown as an adult.
“My daily commute to work is the only twenty minutes I get to myself when I’m in complete control,” he says. “More and more executives are getting into cycling because it’s the one moment they can get away from all the clutter in their busy lives,” Andrew says. In a world of instant gratification when people can’t be far from work or offline, Andrew takes his phone with him on the bike but when he hears it ring, instead of answering, he chooses to “just ride”.
“In the grand scheme of life, it’s what we’re all looking for; freedom, that’s why I love riding,” he says.
It’s that freedom that Andrew wants everyone to experience when they come to Cyclesmith, but customers often find much more. When the shop moved from Dartmouth to Quinpool and then to Agricola in 2014, they took on a supportive community role at local events, even hosting an annual petting zoo for I Love Local’s Open City Event in the Cyclesmith parking lot.
“The petting zoo is really fun,” Andrew says, “we don’t usually get many sales that day since it’s so busy, the whole place is a zoo”, he laughs, “but that’s not the point; it’s just the right thing to do.”
Helping customers achieve their goals and be active is the real point, and it isn’t a seasonal sport.
“In the summer the sales floor is a sea of people, but in winter it’s just a sea of staff,” Andrew says, even though he chooses not to lay people off during the slow season, for the same reason, “it’s the right thing to do.”
It’s a motivation that inspires much of the way Andrew and his partners chose to set up the business, prioritizing environmental impact and energy efficient construction, even when it costed extra to do it right.
“We’ve been recycling cardboard since 1994 when you used to have to pay to do it,” Andrew says as an example. In the design for the windows, insulation and lighting, Cyclesmith went out of its way to make the right choices early on.
One of the best choices Andrew says they made was moving to the North End, were the staff work hard to sell and repair all types of bikes and the flow of foot traffic creates the ideal conditions to succeed.
“Businesses like ours need the balance between industrial grit and a pretty storefront in order to be hospitable to both bikes and people,” Andrew says. “The North End is such a cool, unique community, bursting with social interactions and friendly on-street shopping,” he says, “there are so many independent stores rather than mass merchants; that’s really what makes it great here.”
“I love that we have all our own bakeries and breweries like a colloquial old town, all we’re missing is a cobbler or a blacksmith,” he says.
Andrew thinks part of the reason so many thrive in the North End is because they are all in the same business of customer experience.
“Our senses haven’t left us, even in the age of online everything,” Andrew explains, “people like to be able to come in and touch our product and play with things; it’s like using an atm versus talking to a real person.”
The real people at Cyclesmith are certainly worth talking to, for their extensive knowledge or just a drop-in neighbourly chat.
Andrew has integrated what he loves about the North End into his business: make stuff and be friendly; two great reasons to get active and embrace freedom this spring.