At many businesses, a change in ownership would amount to handing over the keys and slapping on a new coat of paint. But at Proteus Bicycles, co-owner Laurie Lemieux inherited a legacy.
The building — located at 9217 Baltimore Ave. — is enveloped in a deep green hue, a pop of color in a sea of neutral-toned buildings lining Route 1. A gray and white cat dances around customers’ legs outside and then slips underfoot, ushering them through the door. Its name is Snickers and it has lived in the shop for seven years. Welcome.
Lemieux and co-owner Ben Bassett took control in July after the shop’s previous owner, Jill DiMauro, left the country. She and her girlfriend, a Canadian immigrant who was denied a visa in the United States, left because no federal law grants citizenship to same-sex couples who marry, Lemieux said. DiMauro gave up the entire business to be with her partner.
But Lemieux, who had frequented the store for seven years and calls it her “second home,” said she is determined to keep the place, a staple since it opened in 1972, a bustling hot spot for cyclists across the county.
“The shop is what it is,” said Lemieux, who gave up her job as a nursing professor at Catholic University to oversee Proteus. “We wanted to make sure that [it] went on.”
In a span of 20 minutes, every customer who walks in receives a first-name greeting. One woman in particular, decked out in full biking regalia, hands a beaming Lemieux a brand new clock for her store.
“We have the best customers,” Lemieux said. “We really appreciate people who love to ride and who love to shop.”
The store specializes in bike fitting, which requires exact adjustments to every part of the bike to best suit the rider. A section of the store resembles an auto-repair shop, adorned with scattered bikes in various states of intricate adjustment.
“We can spend an hour just playing with somebody’s pedals,” Lemieux said. “The average rider can benefit from that right fit.”
While its location is isolated from the campus, about a mile up Route 1, the shop routinely sees students stroll through its doors, Bassett said.
“The distance is a bit of an issue for a lot of students, but we still do have a lot of students who make the hike regardless,” he said.
Several students, such as sophomore computer engineering major and cyclist Samantha Steffanus, said the university community could benefit from a full-service bike shop because the campus’s shop doesn’t carry specific bicycle parts. Instead, it supplies tools and bike repair services and sells U-locks, helmets and lights.
“The bike shop on campus doesn’t really sell anything,” Steffanus said. “I punctured my tire once and had to go to a different shop off campus.”
Because Proteus is not a corporate retailer, it carries smaller, often independent bike brands with prices ranging from $400 to $2,400 a bike, Lemieux said. The store does not carry used bikes.
But while the bike-lined walls and vast inventory have created many loyal customers, the shop is as much a social hangout as it is a business. On weekends, workers and friends take customers on rides throughout area trails and on Thursdays, they gather for a potluck from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., in line with a long tradition of serving visitors more than spokes and wheels.
“Rumor has it that [in the 1970s] there used to be a guy in the back who made tofu — before anyone knew what tofu was,” Lemieux said.