Ron Kozy has been the owner of Kozy’s Cyclery for the past 54 years and was basically born into the shop. His father first bought Kozy’s when Ron was two in 1944, and it has been in the family ever since.
Schwinn: How did you get started with Kozy’s?
Ron: I started in the bike shop because of my father who owned it and I worked with him when I was ten cleaning shelves and sweeping the floor. I got paid a dime an hour, which in 1952 made me the richest kid on the block. You didn't have electric registers then, so I would go over and punch the buttons to take my dime out every hour and put it in a special secret place.
My father died when I was 17 and I had to drop out of high school and take over the business. So I am a high school drop out. I’m pretty proud of that. A lot of bike dealers and friends helped me out when I was just getting started. I was only 17, but they were there to look up to.
Working with bikes is a big part of my family. My father was president of the National Bike Dealers Association, and so was my uncle, and then I also was president. Three presidents in my family. My son also works in the business, and the fourth is coming. We have a 12-year-old, my grandson, who is starting to help around the store. That is four generations who have been working at Kozy's!
I have been working in the bike business for 61 years, and I have been running the business for, let see, 54 years. It doesn't look like I am getting out.
How has the Kozy’s of 1944 evolved to the Kozy’s we see today?
Ron: Well, at that time the War was on, and Kozy’s was just a fix it shop. We would fix pretty much everything: toasters, washing machines, and motorcycles, but we quickly progressed to become a bike dealership.
In 1948 a lot of bikes kept coming in for repair and by 1950 we had become a Schwinn dealer. Selling Schwinn bikes really got us into the bike dealership even though at that time we were still fixing the other things, but it switched pretty quickly to just a bicycle shop in the late 1960's.
Then in 1970, there was a bike boom that created a demand for adult bikes. Bicycles no longer were seen as a kid exclusive market; it became an adult market especially with the introduction of 10-speed bikes. By 1975 we had bought the Northside store, then we bought another store, and then another. We just kept progressing and became better known for each store.
How do you direct a cyclist to the right bike for them?
Ron: We first ask what their riding type is; what they are going to use the bike for such as to commute, for pleasure, or for aided riding. If they want drop or straight handlebars is also an important factor. Then we start showing them the bikes and they’ll begin to decide what they like. Some people are also concerned with the price range and sometimes the color is important, but we make sure to match the bike up to the customer.
What is one tip you can give to cyclist to make sure that their bicycle lasts?
Ron: Keep air in tires. This is important so as not to dent the rim, always check your brakes for safety before you ride, and make sure to get tune-ups once a year. Kozy offers two free tunes ups after you buy a bike.
Also, buy a U-Lock. The bike won’t last if you don’t have one; it will be gone. We sell a lot of locks.
What is one question you get asked by cyclists all the time, and how do you answer it?
Ron: What’s on sale! But we also get a lot of people who want to make sure that they can get parts for the bike, which you can for all the bikes we sell here. They also want to know what size to buy, which is why we do fittings. Making sure you buy the right fit, especially at the higher end is very important, because if it doesn’t fit, it is a waste of money.
What is your favorite Schwinn product that is currently available at your store?
Ron: The kid bikes are great and really popular right now in general, but for the adults, the fixie bikes (fixed-gear bicycles) and the hybrids are really nice and very competitively priced and work well for us.
What was your first bike?
Ron: Well, it would have had to have been a Schwinn, but I don’t remember what type exactly.
Do you have any good stories about a Schwinn?
Ron: A lot of people recall that their first bike was a Schwinn, because it has always been the name, or ‘I bought my first bike at Kozy and it was a Schwinn’, or ‘my dad bought my first bike, a Schwinn at Kozy’s’
What keeps you excited about cycling and Kozy’s Cyclery today?
Ron: Good weather, some days in the spring are so busy it can be hard to handle! With 4 stores it gets to be a pretty big operation, but it’s exciting to see us develop staff and to see them grow, become more knowledgeable, and improve their mechanics.
As far as product, electric bikes, Schwinn actually started it, and it is expanding.
It is also exciting to watch Chicago become more bike-friendly; with all the bike trails being made there are a lot more areas to ride.
Do you still ride, Ron?
Ron: When I was younger I was a big bicycle rider, but I had less time as I got older and I took over the business. I would go out with a few clubs early-on to bike to restaurants, but there just is not enough time. Now I ride an electric bike, and the reason is that I ride it more...it motivates me to get out more.
The Original Kozy's: 35th Street Location