Downtown London - News

March 2019

  • London Bicycle Cafe embraces its early downtown success

    March 1, 2019

    London Bicycle Cafe embraces its early downtown success

     

    By Sean Meyer

     

    When Ben Cowie left London in 2002 to study geology at McMaster University, he never guessed he’d return 15 years later, nor that he’d end up opening a business that would quickly become a downtown fixture.

     

    In June 2017, just three months after returning — and after stops in Hamilton, Boston, and Calgary along the way — Ben opened London Bicycle Café at 355 Clarence St. 

     

    While he acknowledges opening a bike shop and coffee café might have been something of a gamble, the success he has found in just some 18 months has made all his hard work all the more worthwhile.

     

    “It’s been great. It’s a different life than I expected. If you asked me five years ago if I would be here, the answer would be no,” he said. “There have been all kinds of interesting and fun people who make up the place you’re living. London has a community of new and exciting things happening — its trajectory is straight up.”

     

    While coffee and bicycles might seem a strange mix to some, Ben explains the combination is what makes the café accessible to people who haven’t walked into a bike shop in 40 years, if ever.

     

    At the café, customers can walk in, grab a coffee or snack, and look up the stairs to the bicycles he has on display. While he admits there are people who come in every day who never take that look, many people eventually will.

     

    On paper, the café and the bike shop are one business, but the reality is the two components feed into each other’s success.

     

    Another contributing factor, Ben adds, comes back to why he wanted to set up the café in the downtown in the first place.

     

    “We want to be in the thick of things and as accessible to as many people as possible. Downtown has some great things going on,” Ben said. “If you have an opportunity to live down here . . . you can walk to everything, you have good coffee, great restaurants, you have theatre, parks, sports, the market, a whole bunch of great bike shops. There are so many good things about downtown, why wouldn’t someone want to be here?”

     

    The café closed for six weeks during the winter, while appointments for bike sales and repairs were scheduled individually over that time.

     

    Fortunately, that just means when the weather starts to turn, Ben plans on being ready to jump back into the action. London Bicycle Café reopens on Friday, March 1st. 

     

    “There were definitely some long hours last spring. We weren’t prepared for how busy we were going to be, but that’s a good problem to have,” he adds. “We were better prepared this year and can hopefully meet that demand in a better way.”

     

    Everybody needs time away, Ben explains, adding anyone “going 24/7, you’ll just burn out real fast.”

     

    With that in mind, he recently took a month off, coming back from a trip out west with new energy. In the summertime, when he can’t quite get away for such an extended trip, it’s no surprise that time on his bike makes a big difference.

     

    Even so, it’s not his only form of recreation.

     

    “Long bike rides are a good way to clear the head, but I’m also out walking my dog. I tend to walk my dog with an audio book, that way I can get two things done at once,” Ben said. “It’s a good use of time. I get a chapter of my book done, I feel a little smarter and the dog feels a little more tired. That way everyone can sleep a little better.”

     

    For more information, visit www.londonbicyclecafe.com

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