Crown Heights is changing. There is no mistaking the churn of gentrification in this central Brooklyn neighborhood as it moves eastward on Eastern Parkway. But it’s too easy to write off all the new brunch places and sleek bars as yet more signs that something in Crown Heights has been irrevocably lost–some new businesses are looking to serve the existing community, not supplant it with a new one.
One such business is Bicycle Roots, a bicycle storefront on Nostrand Avenue and Bergen Street. Aiming to make cycling accessible to everyone, the store emphasizing bringing beginners into the fold with personal attention to their needs and skill levels.
Business partners Nechama Levy and Joe Lawler opened the store this past June to meet a broader need they claim was there even before the surge in new arrivals.
“The last bike shop in this neighborhood closed 20 years ago,” says Levy, who moved the store deeper into Crown Heights from its old location closer to Bed-Stuy. There, she said, the retail–and cycling–environment was less dynamic than the one she finds on Nostrand Avenue. And that’s no good, if you want to keep residents’ dollars nearby.
“It’s important that any thriving neighborhood be able all of the goods and services that residents need. Otherwise they have to go to other neighborhoods and their dollars don’t support their own.”
Both Levy and Lawler live in Crown Heights–Levy lives two blocks from Bicycle Roots in one direction, Lawler lives two blocks in the other.
Levy has lived in Brooklyn her whole life. She says that cycling was a part of the culture here long before traveling by bicycle came into vogue in the era of sustainability and Citi Bikes. “Our entire business exists to pay tribute to culture in the area, which already had a great level of support for cycling,” she notes, adding that “We don’t want to change the neighborhood, except for the better.”
As Crown Heights housing prices and retail presence continue to lurch upward, it’s not clear if Levy and Lawler are combatting the change, or at its vanguard. After all, the rapid arrival of young people into the neighborhood can’t be bad for business.
Still, Levy’s focus is on providing expertise she sees as missing, or forgotten, but not new. “When [the old Crown Heights Bike Shop] closed, its owner moved back to Jamaica. There hasn’t been anything like that here since.”