Racks of used and vintage bicycles line the sidewalk outside of Via Bicycle off of South Street in Philadelphia. In an old-school circuslike font, signs spell out “Jiffy Repairs,” “New Used & Rare” and “Ephemera.”
Stepping inside the door, it’s clear this place is much more than just a bike shop — it’s part museum and part library, too.
The owner of the shop stands on a wooden ladder, searching for parts like a librarian in search of the perfect book. Curtis Anthony has a handlebar mustache, peppered with gray hairs, and he wears a small beanie like Steve Zissou from Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic.”
“We’ve been here a billion years. This is our third location, and, alas, we’re moving,” Curtis says, hitting the counter nervously with a bike flag as he talks. By a billion years, he really means 20. His eyes fill with tears — this isn’t just his bike store. It’s also his home. He lives on the fourth floor above the shop.
“My kid is 11,” he says. “He had it out with me the other night that the rug is being yanked out from under him. Moving is a big deal.”
It’s a big deal and a big undertaking, considering the massive shop. Curtis walks through the store, into a repair room where bike mechanics are listening to heavy metal. He slides open a door to reveal even more bicycles. He calls it the “bomb shelter.”
Next he heads upstairs, past old cycling posters.
The second floor holds the vintage bike collection, which Curtis says keeps the business afloat in the wintertime when people stop walking through the door.
Curtis shows off display cases of old bike water bottles, and even kerosene bike lamps.
“I think you can sense that a small item might have great value to me,” he smiles, pinching the tips of his mustache between his fingers. “I like stuff.”
The third floor has more storage, antiques and odds and ends. Curtis says he “smells” a part, and he goes scrambling over a pile of wheels and spokes.
“As I go around I’m looking for things I might send to auction. I’m stressing, we have to reduce our volume.” He looks around the room. “I don’t look worried but I’m not sleeping well.”
He feeds the cat meowing and winding about his feet. All of Curtis’ cats are named Wilbur, and all of his dogs go by Fido. Wilbur IV dives, face first, into a bowl of food.
On the fourth floor is Curtis’ apartment. There’s a painting of his son riding a blue bicycle wearing a Tigger hat with ears. A four-poster bed sits in the middle of the room, next to an ornate couch where he has never sat. His back deck looks out over Philadelphia’s skyline. The view alone is enough to see why he was priced out of this massive property. He says his building and the one next to it sold for roughly $2.2 million.
“It’s a tough business to be in, there’s no doubt,” says Simon Firth. He is one of the owners of another Philadelphia bike shop called Firth and Wilson Transport Cycles. He also used to work at Via Bicycle.
“Real estate in Philadelphia is going through the roof. It’s happening all over. I see it in Berlin, bike shops getting closed down, Portland, San Francisco Seattle. People are getting priced out, but so are the people on the bikes, so we move on to the next neighborhood.”
And that’s what Curtis is doing. He’s moving further south in the city to a another neighborhood, Broad and Bainbridge.
Lynne Denton has lived in the row home across the street from Via Bicycle for nearly 40 years. She’s watched the neighborhood change.
“It was artists and craftspeople, people like Curtis, who came in and made this a very desirable place to live. We’ll miss him, we’ll definitely miss him a lot on this block,” Denton says.
Curtis has to be packed up by the end of January. His new shop is about a third the size of the one he has now, but he’s trying to stay optimistic.
“Here at 606 S. 9th St., we have so much space that we don’t well utilize. And so we’re looking forward to the move giving us an opportunity to reorganize. We have so much inventory, it’s getting in the way of us making money.
Curtis doesn’t have a place to live yet, but seeing old and new faces at his next shop will make it feel more like home.