STONINGTON — Eight years ago, Chris J. Palmer entered Mystic Cycle Centre with the intent of purchasing some bicycle parts during a “monster sale” that the retailer was holding.
On his way into the business, which he had heard about from his close friend, Zachary Duksta, after Duksta convinced him to try cycling, Palmer noticed a “help wanted” sign hanging from a window near the front door. He said he inquired that day, returned to begin work the following morning and has never looked back.
“It really was the start of everything,” said Palmer, who earlier this year took the leap into small business ownership when he and his wife, Allison, made the decision to purchase the business from Robert Kapell and Richard Ely. “It’s hard to believe that when I stumbled into this bike shop eight years ago, this is where we would end up.”
The Palmers are now preparing for their first Small Business Saturday as the new owners of Mystic Cycle Centre. The two said this week that although it’s been very busy, especially given the added challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the experience has been a dream come true.
Born and raised in Ashaway, Chris Palmer is a 2008 graduate of Chariho High School. The 30-year-old first met his wife, a 2009 Wheeler High School graduate, when they were both teenagers while Chris worked as a lifeguard at Misquamicut State Beach, and the two reconnected after catching up following a random encounter at Pier Pizza Company in Wakefield seven years ago.
The pair formally tied the knot in a small ceremony in September, just two months after coming to terms on an agreement to purchase the Mystic Cycle Center.
While there have been challenging moments as they’ve transitioned from employees to ownership, both said they have been fortunate to be able to ride the wave of a renewed and growing interest in cycling. In fact, business is as good as ever, thanks in part to a desire by many to spend more time outdoors and take up interests such as bike-riding and family time.
The result has been a flow of additional sales, a happy struggle in keeping the showroom stocked and a growing number of commitments from customers to purchase bicycles as they become available.
“We are super grateful that not only have we been able to avoid having to close our doors or lay anyone off, but we were able to actually continue to grow with the community’s support and were one of the businesses fortunate enough to find success,” Allison Palmer said. “We know that has not been the case for so many, and we feel very fortunate that we have been able to have the kind of opportunities we’ve had.”
With the recent success have come some struggles, too. The business is working hard to accommodate the needs of all customers, but bicycles are hard to come by and the business currently has hundreds of bikes on back order.
Chris Palmer said that while he is able to bring in about a dozen bikes per week, many of these are “spoken for” by customers who know what they want and have been willing to put a down payment on a bicycle. The remaining bicycles have sold quickly, sometimes as soon as the day they arrive at the shop.
“We are trying to keep up, but we have to make it a priority to aid those who have invested in us,” he said. “We will continue to work to try and accommodate all needs as quickly as we can, and to make sure everyone has an enjoyable experience. Our motto is ‘30 days to like your bike,’ and it’s a guarantee that we stand by.”
In the coming years, the Palmers hope the business will become more involved in the community in a variety of ways. Mystic Cycle Centre has expanded to partner with other businesses, such as the Borough-based Beer’d Brewing Company, in an effort to increase presence while also giving back to the community.
In the coming weeks, the two companies will collaborate to develop a jersey based on the artwork for Beer’d Brewing’s flagship IPA, Dogs and Boats.
Palmer said he also wants to continue the tradition of being a strong community partner, helping local residents to grow as individuals and serving as contributing members of the small, close-knit communities of Westerly-Pawcatuck, Stonington Borough and Mystic. In some ways, he already has.
Earlier this year, 2020 Wheeler graduate Michael Carroll said Chris Palmer served as an inspiration after the cycling enthusiast was involved in an accident at twilight and decided that he wanted to do something to prevent others from going through the experience he had gone through.
With Palmer’s support, Carroll designed a side lighting system to enhance safety. The system consists of four interconnected LED light strips attached to the side of the bicycle, with wires attached to a battery inside a seat bag to keep everything secure and illuminated.
“He encouraged me to stay with it and to be creative,” Carroll said in an interview just before his June graduation. “They helped me to feel like this was a place where I truly belonged.”
Chris and Allison also plan to find additional ways to pay it forward and continue the tradition of being a good community partner that has been a cornerstone of Mystic Cycle Centre since it first opened in 1992.
“We want to be able to expand and be part of many goodwill efforts moving forward,” Allison said. “Right now, we are trying to take it one day at a time, but we are holding a lot of internal meetings to set goals; to find ways to provide more jobs; and to encourage interest in cycling and alternative sport activities. We are excited to see where this takes us.”