Wilmette family biz sells bikes and a lot more
Bikes, along with all other sorts of sporting equipment, can be found at Wilmette Bicycle & Sports Shop.
Wilmette Bicycle & Sport Shop
Where: 605 Green Bay Road, Wilmette,
What: Sports equipment and clothing for hockey, swimming, baseball, football,
lacrosse, basketball, among many others. And an enormouse selection of bikes
Contact: (847) 251-1404, www.wilmettesportshop.com
Updated: August 22, 2012 3:38AM
WILMETTE — Swim goggles, bike locks, lacrosse sticks, baseball mitts and basketballs fight for space on the walls of the small sales room.
Display stands, crowding the few aisles, overflow with baseball bats – wood and metal – sports shorts, kneepads, hockey sticks, Frisbees, among others.
Hockey goals, stadium seats, sweatshirts and gym bags dangle from the ceiling.
Roughly 15 bikes parked near the door remind visitors of the store’s origins.
Another 200 are lined up in neat rows in the basement, accessible from an outside door that leads to a low-ceilinged room that probably was originally a cellar.
Upstairs a warren of rooms are lined with cardboard boxes loaded with various sports and equipment. A separate room in the back is devoted to hockey needs.
This is the Wilmette Bicycle & Sports Shop and clearly the interior of the 5,000- square-foot older building has not been designed by a consultant.
“We break every rule in marketing,” said Larry Versino, who with his brother Al and cousin, Jim, own and operate the store in downtown Wilmette. “We have customers climb stairs to get upstairs, go outside to get to the basement; we make them dig through a bunch of stuff to find what they need.”
But customers of this legendary store know that this family-owned business probably carries whatever they need for whatever sport they play.
“My father and uncle started the business in 1932,” said Larry Versino.
The first generation began by fixing bikes for a penny each. That led to the bike store that at one time had shops in Winnetka and Wilmette.
The business started selling Schwinn and Raleigh bicycles but now sells those two brands and GT, Giant (its best seller), Diamond Back, Briaa (unusual drop-down frame makes it easy to get on), and a line of folding bikes. The store even sells unicycles to meet the needs of a park district class.
In addition the store offers equipment for baseball, basketball, figure skating, football, golf, lacrosse, platform tennis, rollerblades, soccer, swimming and many others. And if the store doesn’t sell a sports-related item customers need, there’s a good chance owners can get it for them. Or have it stocked in an off-site warehouse.
But what the store delivers that a chain cannot is service. The store promises to repair whatever it sells. It will also sharpen skates and restring tennis racquets. It fixes baseball mitts and customizes T-shirts. Owners will even build an ice rink in your backyard.
Although no one sport dominates the sales ledger (“diversification is our sales leader,” said Jim Versino), the store’s emotional heart belongs to bicycles. “There are two reasons to buy a bike here,” said Jim Versino, “our assembly and our quality.”
“Our Schwinns are not the same Schwinn as you’d buy in a big store,” he said. “The parts are different, they’re bike shop quality. But the biggest reason (to buy a bike from us) is our assembly. If the bike is not properly greased, the brakes won’t work properly. We have special tools and knowledge.”
Larry Versino said they have stories of people bringing in bikes bought elsewhere that weren’t assembled properly by the personnel at that store.
“They don’t know what to grease, what to oil,” he said.
Customers buying a bike at the store can test ride their options in the store’s back parking lot.
“We’ll bring up four to five bikes for them to try out,” said Jim Versino. “We stock 400 bikes.”
Al Versino’s office is located upstairs and one day he noticed a man wearing one red sock and one green sock on a ladder rummaging through the cartons looking for something.
“Hey, Versino, don’t you have any Cubs’ hats here?” the man yelled in mock derision.
Turned out to be former North Shore resident comedian Bill Murray.