South Mountain Cycle & Cafe strives to build a better bike shop
While many stores can sell you a bike or a cup of coffee, it’s not every day you’ll find one where you can get both at the same place – or one that has built a community quite like South Mountain Cycle & Cafe.
The Emmaus-based store, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, strives to create a sense of family with its patrons. In the front, the cafe serves four blends of fresh-roasted organic coffee from Albany in addition to pastry items and weekly specials.
The rest of the store is dedicated to bikes and accessories for both casual and hardcore bicyclists.
Owners Chad and Heather Balliet opened their store in June 2013 – the same year they were married – underneath Armetta’s before moving just down the street eight months later.
“When you come into the store, you’re not here price-shopping something,” Chad said. “You’re getting the experience. You’re getting the expertise. You’re getting what you need. So it becomes more of a social transaction versus a cash transaction.”
The unique, welcoming vibe of the store is forged from both its bicycle and cafe components firing on all cylinders.
“I like the people,” Heather said. “I like the interaction. I might not remember all names, but I’m pretty good with everybody’s drink. I could have your drink on the counter waiting for you before you walk in the door.”
Chad, who lived on a farm in Ashfield, has a detail-oriented mind, working on machines since his youth. Heather, who grew up in Roxborough, met Chad 13 years ago. They started the shop, in part, because they wanted to create a friendlier atmosphere than some of the higher-end bike shops they’d encountered.
“Riding a bicycle is fun. You say ‘bicycle,’ and you smile, right?” Chad said. “So, how can’t you come to a bike shop and smile the whole time you’re there?”
While Chad is more in charge of the shop’s biking aspect and Heather the cafe, they are constantly collaborating to make sure that both aspects of the shop work well.
“There’s not a lot of people in the world that can work as a husband and wife and literally work with each other all day long,” Chad said. “I mean, I’m with her…”
“... 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Heather said.
“But I wouldn’t want to have any other partner in the world to do this with,” Chad said. “I can lean on her, she can lean on me and it’s great.”
The dedication to the store and each other extends beyond typical business hours. They regularly organize learning seminars and group rides for cyclists. If work has to be done, they will stay after-hours to make sure the work is completed by the deadline.
On top of running the shop, the Balliets raise their two-year-old son, Melvin, named after Chad’s grandfather. The Balliets want to instill in their son the work ethic that drives them both to succeed.
“Having him be a part of this is huge,” Chad said. “He gets pretty excited to come over to the shop.”
Five years on, their customer-first approach has already paid dividends. The thriving store finds hardcore fans of good coffee, cycling (or both) routinely paying visits.
“It’s really cool – people actually, genuinely care about our family, just as much as we care about our family, just as much as we care about their families,” Heather said.
Cyclists frequently organize rides with the shop as their meeting spot and many folks stop by to walk Diesel, the family dog.
And readers of Lehigh Valley Magazine voted it the best bike shop for the Best of the Lehigh Valley 2018 catalogue. They won entirely from word-of-mouth.
“We didn’t even know,” Heather said. “And they told us that there were 17-to-18,000 people who voted, and apparently people voted for us, which we thought was pretty cool.”
The Balliets see no end to the road that running the shop has taken them on.
“You gotta love what you do, and for us, we employ people who love what they do, and we love what we do,” Chad said. “So, with that combination, it’s most of the ingredients of success, I think.”