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‘Cycling’ ownership at the bike shop

Saranac Lake bike business changes hands, after difficult journey

Justin Oliver, holding the scissors, cuts the ribbon on Silver Birch Cycles — a bike shop previously called by Human Power Planet Earth which Oliver purchased from John Dimon, on the right. The ribbon cutting for the business transition garnered a large crowd outside the Main Street business Saturday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Justin Oliver was surprised by the size of the crowd gathered on the Main Street sidewalk in the rain Saturday to watch him cut the ribbon on Silver Birch Cycles — formerly Human Power Planet Earth Bike Shop, which he recently purchased from John Dimon. But, in hindsight, he said he shouldn’t have been surprised.

“Different people supported me at different times. But this was pretty much everyone together, and I could see them all,” Oliver said, comparing the experience to completing a marathon.

Oliver and Dimon have been longtime friends and after years of hanging out at his friend’s shop, Oliver decided he wanted to take it into the future.

Dimon opened the bike shop in 2013, a couple years after Saranac Lake lost a different bike shop to the recession. Now, he’s handing the business off to Oliver, who has been the service manager at the shop since 2021.

Oliver said he has big plans for the shop’s future. He’s already had to fight hard to purchase the business and knows it is just the start of the hard work. But on Saturday, he said, seeing his support group all in one place, he knows he can make his plans become a reality.

Justin Oliver speaks at the ribbon cutting for Silver Birch Cycles in Saranac Lake on Saturday. Oliver recently purchase the bike shop business from John Dimon, left, who ran it as Human Power Planet Earth since 2013. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

Dimon said the community is what helped Human Power Planet Earth grow and become a fixture of Saranac Lake, and Oliver said the community is what helped him transition it into Silver Birch Cycles.

Oliver said he’s wanted to own a bike shop since he was a kid. His friends rode ATVs and dirt bikes. He was never into that. He liked bicycles.

He’s been working on people’s bikes since high school, starting out of necessity by putting mountain bike tires on road bikes so he could ride trails. Where he grew up, the closest bike shop was 45 minutes away, so he said he knows the importance of having one local.

Oliver moved to the Tri-Lakes in 2003 and quickly met Dimon at the speedskating store Dimon owned in Lake Placid at the time. The two shared a love of sports in motion and even found out they grew up 15 minutes from each other in an area south of Syracuse.

Dimon said his friend is taking on the shop at a pivotal time for bikes. The Adirondack Rail Trail opening in town is a big boon for biking, he said, and after seeing the rise of e-bikes over the past couple years, Dimon added that they’ve allowed more people to get on a set of wheels. He has high hopes for the future of the shop under Oliver.

John Dimon, left, and Justin Oliver shake hands at the ribbon cutting for Silver Birch Cycles in Saranac Lae on Saturday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

“I think he’s going to build this to what I always dreamed it could be,” Dimon said.

He’ll still be around the shop for a couple years as support.

Oliver said he wants to bring in more people from the surrounding cities for group trips in the region. He also wants to rent and sell bikes to locals for as cheap as possible.

“Growing up, my parents didn’t have much money, so I didn’t have much in the way of bikes. I see a lot of that here,” Oliver said. “And, you know, I can give bikes to people if I want to. That’s a pretty powerful thing.”

He said he wants to get more people on bikes.

“I want anyone who has any interest in a bike to be able to ride THE bike they want,” Oliver said.

He also wants to host bike repair classes and make the shop a place for people to gather and learn about the benefits of cycling over driving a car.

Hurdles

Oliver said there were no banks involved in this business transfer.

“I’ve had a lot of doors slammed in my face,” he said.

He said banks and small business organizations “actively did not work” with him.

“These banks, they have no real interest in helping small businesses,” Oliver said.

He said they weren’t in a position to help a small business owner. He said he has good credit, but banks didn’t return his calls, for seemingly no reason.

“If Justin — and I’m just going to say it real bluntly — were white, married and wealthy, this whole thing would have been a lot easier,” said Adirondack North Country Association Deputy Director Danielle Delaini, who runs ANCA’s Center for Businesses in Transition.

Oliver ended up raising and putting up the money on his own.

“This is extremely difficult for a business to do,” he said. “I had no lending institutions.”

Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rachel Karp commended Oliver for his perseverance.

Oliver thanked the many people gathered around him who helped in this unconventional business transfer.

“We love all of our clients, but we love some more,” SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Director Dale Rice said.

He said Oliver is one of those favorite clients because he asks questions, he listens and he takes their advice — which Rice said is rare.

ANCA Executive Director Elizabeth Cooper said Oliver has tenacity and thanked him for “literally keeping the wheels of Saranac Lake turning.”

Human Power

To Dimon, the job was always about providing a service. He’d hear new needs from cyclists and address them. It took lots of very, very long days.

“I’m doing something I want to do,” he said.

But his hands are worn out from 50 years of wrenching. He’s been working on bikes since childhood.

“My dad fixed cars. I tried to be like him,” Dimon said. “In second grade, I took everything off my bike. Even the spokes. It was horrible. So he showed me how to put it back together.”

Dimon lost his speedskating store to the 2008 recession. In the same year, Barkeater Bikes in Saranac Lake closed. There was a vacuum in the bike business, he said.

He officially opened the shop in 2013, but he had been fixing bikes on the side since 2011 while working a day and a night job.

He said he started with $25 of his own tools and a rack. Dimon credited many members of the community with his shop’s survival, as friends, neighbors and fellow cyclists donated bikes, tools, equipment and funds. His friend Birgit Schulte made donations and urged him to bring in things like the kick sleds which sit outside the shop in the winters.

“Human Power made it this far because of Birgit Schulte,” Dimon said.

Oliver and Dimon both spoke of the values they see in biking. Dimon said, no matter what is happening in his life, it’s better on a bike.

In sixth grade, he got a 10-speed.

“I rode all summer,” he said.

He remembers passing the sign marking the entrance to Onondaga County from Cortland County. At 12 years old, this was an epiphany.

“I was free. There wasn’t an adult involved,” he said.

True to form, after the ribbon cutting on Main Street, Oliver was seen hopping on his bike to ride over to Mount Pisgah for a party.

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