The very next day, the owner of Pumpkinvine Cyclery in Middlebury offered to sell him that bike shop and they shook hands on the deal.
On the Sunday two days later, he and his wife, Brittany, found out she was pregnant with their first child.
“It was just like, whoa,” he said. “Within two weeks we were running the shop.”
Nearly five years later, they just moved the shop into a new, larger building at 420 N. Main St., Middlebury. Spencer, 29, and Brittany, 30, work together, along with employee Neil Yoder, to sell, rent and maintain bikes.
Their proximity to Pumpkinvine Nature Trail is a huge factor in growing the business, in needing a larger space. “We wouldn’t be there without the trail,” he said.
There are other bike shops in Elkhart County, probably more than you think. Other places also offer great service and havebeen doing so for years. What’s remarkable about the Shorts is how they’re living in and into a community in a way they never expected.
The couple went to Northridge. He graduated from Goshen College right before those fateful days in May. She was working as the manager of a dental office in South Bend, working 60 to 65 hours a week in addition to a longer-than-desired commute by car. It wasn’t very long until she quit her job and went to work in the shop.
In late 2010, as the Great Recession was abating, Brian Cole started the bike shop. Seven months later, he got his job back and found Short to take over. “I never thought I would own a business in Middlebury,” Short said. “We’re rooted.”
They’re buying a house. Their kids are ages 4 and 2. Rather than moving to Michigan, they’re operating a bike shop in their hometown.
“They’re a model example of what every town or city wants,” said Grace Bonewitz, executive director of the Middlebury Chamber of Commerce.
Towns need businesses that prevail through the decades. Middlebury has them, ranging from Cardinal Bus at more than 90 years and Das Dutchman Essenhaus at 45. Yet they also need new places to serve changing needs. “We’re goingto be growing. The question is going to be starting the businesses,” Bonewitz said.
When the recent Vibrant Communities conversation happened in Middlebury, the main topic was trails, particularly ones that bikes or pedestriansuse. Residents want the Ridge Run Trail to be completed. They want Middlebury and Bristol to be connected with one, Bonewitz said.
More bike trails would be good for bike business, but that’s not why Spencer helped build the Bonneyville Mill mountain bike trail. He just wanted a place toride his bike. He rode the trail in Warsaw, ate at the restaurants there, and wanted that experience closer to home. “You can be part of a change in your community,” he said.
So he and others built a trail. It gets less traffic than the Pumpkinvine trail, and that may always be. Aside from the thousands of local residents who pack the Pumpkinvine on summer days, tourists are coming. They’re coming from Chicago, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. But they’re also coming from Australia, China and Spain.
“We never expected there would be as much tourists asthere is,” said Brittany.
On a Saturday, half the customers at Pumpkinvine Cyclery are from more than 30 miles away, she said. They rent them bikes and sell them accessories.
They praise the other young people in Middlebury opening businesses and making the town a place they’re excited to live, a place with more to do. They cite Austin Slabach at 41 Degrees North, a downtown restaurant featuring craft brew, locally raised food and a different vibe.
“There are younger couples wanting this community to thrive, so they’re doing what they can to make it better,” Brittany said.
Conversations are underway about how to make our community better and what we want. Bike trails are high on the list. But it also takes the Shorts and others like them who take chances, invest and find ways to serve as they make a living.
“We like to see things improve.We like to fix things that need fixed. We want to see things grow and improve,” Spencer said.
A few people like that and you have a vibrant community.
Marshall V. King is community editor for The Elkhart Truth and food columnist for Flavor 574. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@ elkharttruth.com, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Brittany and Spencer Short have operated Pumpkinvine Cyclery for nearly five years.
Elkhart Truth photo/Marshall V. King
MARSHALL V. KING
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