The owner of a longtime Schenectady bike shop is opening two more stores in the region, doubling his retail outlets to four in a move that will give new life to two historic buildings.
Les Plaine’s family has sold bicycles in Schenectady for nearly 70 years. They’ve operated Plaine & Son Bike Ski at 1816 State St. for at least the past 30 years and in 2011 opened a second store in Albany, the Broadway Bicycle Co. Now, Plaine is preparing to open stores in Schenectady’s Bellevue neighborhood and a historic farmhouse in Malta. Both are on track to open in coming weeks.
“It’s a coincidence, really,” he said of the timing.
The new Schenectady location will occupy a building at Broadway and Congress Street behind Dunkin’ Donuts. It was originally a mill, built in the early 1900s as a subcontractor for General Electric, and features four chimneys. Plaine bought the space in 2005, when it was boarded up and marked with graffiti, renovated it and opened a surplus store. But he had larger plans for six acres of woods out back, where he wanted to build a course for cyclocross, a style of mountain bike racing featuring large, difficult obstacles.
He got out of the surplus business a few years ago, and at some point, it dawned on him that the property would be ideal for another bike shop.
“I don’t know when the epiphany came to me, but I had always sort of known it would be a good use for that building,” Plaine said. “It’s got very good geography. It’s located in a great spot. It’s easy to get to, with loads of parking. It’s a big space.”
Inside, workers are setting up a 6,000-square-foot showroom that will feature the 2015 lines of Giant and Cannondale brand bicycles. There is an additional 1,750-square-foot service area.
The store will be called the New York Bicycle Co., and even though it has yet to open, a sign on the outside of the building has drawn the curious.
“If folks happen by, we let them in,” Plaine said. “We’re really very close, but they won’t get the full experience yet.”
The Malta location — at the corner of Route 9 and East High Street — is also nearly ready. Locals know it as the historic Wiggins-Collamer House, built around 1835 as the home of George Wiggins. It spent 150 years in the hands of one family, until Wiggins’ great-great-grandson Nelson P. Collamer donated it to the town in 1972. Under a unique arrangement, he still spent his summers there and paid for the house’s upkeep until his death in 2003.
But the town never found a suitable use for the house, despite requests it be turned into a town museum or visitor center. In 2009, once it realized repairs to the facility would run into six figures, the town decided to sell the property. A few potential buyers came close to snatching it up, but the deals all eventually fell through until last year, when Plaine bought it for $130,000.
He hired Spire Restoration LLC of Saratoga Springs to help restore the farmhouse, which is both a local historic landmark and on the National Historic Register.
“We’ve been working on it for a number of months,” he said. “We restored it under very specific historic guidelines, and it’s nearly finished.”
The store’s specialty will be service and fitting, Plaine said.
“What we’ll do is assemble and size and fit the bike right while the customer is there in a seamless way,” he explained. “I think that Saratoga County draws a lot of people from outside the area, so I think the business will do very well.”
Plaine said he’s unsure how many jobs the two new shops will create. He makes sure at least three employees are working at each store at any one time. His State Street store employs anywhere from 10 to 15, with some helping out at the Albany store, as well.
“I don’t know exactly what the staffing will look like, because it’s also a seasonal business,” he said.
Plaine said he couldn’t calculate what his overall investment in the new stores adds up to.
“Blood, sweat and tears, that’s all I can measure,” he said.
Earlier this year, his Schenectady and Albany bike shops landed spots on the National Bicycle Dealers list of America’s Best Bike Shops.
“We’re very proud of that award, so we’re on Cloud Nine these days,” he said. “We have a wonderful business. We do very well. The stores are running beautifully, and everything has come together for us in such a winning formula.
“We feel blessed.”