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Many Trails But No Shop in Lakefront Town

Published October 10, 2011

CHEBOYGAN, MI (BRAIN)—This northern Michigan town along the shore of Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac boasts some of the state’s best trails including the 61-mile North Central State Trail and 70-mile North Eastern State Trail. These are only two among the many “rail trails” in the area, trails that were built along old railroad corridors. And the road riding isn’t bad, either. Rural, low-traffic highways offer cyclists wide shoulders.

But despite a growing bike network, its 5,500 year-round residents (26,000 in Cheboygan County)—with the numbers swelling in the summer—have no place to turn for bike purchases or repairs. The nearest town with a bike shop is Petoskey. But that’s 45 miles away. A roundtrip out and back means traveling 90 miles.

“It’s a great place to live. We’re seeing more and more people on bikes, but we don't have a bike shop,” said Jim Conboy (pictured), a retired lawyer and banker who’s on the board of Cheboygan’s Economic Development Corporation. Conboy is putting the word out in hopes of recruiting someone to set up shop in his town.

“I think we have a business opportunity here for somebody,” said Conboy. “It’s seasonal because we have winters, but there’s also great cross-country skiing in the area and no retail for cross-country skiing either. If someone could combine skis with bikes, it would work.”

Conboy, a 64-year-old cyclist who rode across the country in 2008, said a year-round market exists for selling tune-up service and parts to locals, but that business could really pick up in the summer when retirees and other summer residents come in from Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Detroit and cities in other neighboring states to this popular waterfront tourist town.

“Seniors are looking for areas with trails and people who come to the resorts here in the summer are looking to use the trails,” he said. “I don’t think anyone will get rich running a bike shop here, but there’s money to be made.”

Other shops have tried to give it a go and shuttered. But Conboy said it was due to several factors including poor management. Shops kept erratic hours and were under capitalized or didn’t have enough inventory. And none of these shops were open since the trails have been finished.

He said the city recently created a foundation with the goal to recruit new businesses to Cheboygan and can help interested entrepreneurs secure financing and capital to start a shop.

“We’re not interested in somebody that won’t put in capital,” he said. “But we do have some programs here. We have folks that can assist in putting together business plans and people with bike shop experience that can offer advice. They know the area and business.”

Conboy can be reached at (231) 420-0153 or conboysj@sbcglobal.net.

Steve Frothingham

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