TUSTIN, CA (BRAIN) — Fifteen years ago this month, Tani Walling rented a 500-square-foot corner in a commercial building in Old Town Tustin. He set up an on-call bike repair shop and posted a note on the door that told customers to call his pager number when they needed help. The Path Bike Shop was officially open for business.
“It was just me in the beginning, and originally it was sort of this place to store my bike and tools, and work on bikes,” said Walling. “I was young, and I had roommates and not a lot of space at home.”
As the demand for his repair services grew, Walling hired another mechanic and began stocking more merchandise. Business more than doubled in The Path’s second year from $90,000 in sales to more than $200,000.
Today, The Path has grown from a one-man repair shop into one of Orange County’s largest and most well-known bike shops, with two locations and more than 30 employees. The Tustin store is still located in the same building, but over the years, Walling has taken over more than 10,000 square feet of the complex, with 5,000 square feet dedicated to retail.
And that’s still not enough—housed under EZ-ups, dozens of bikes, parts and accessories spill out into the parking lot because there is simply not room inside for all the inventory The Path keeps on hand.
Most of that inventory is mountain bike-centric, and the store is filled to the gills with anything and everything an off-road rider needs—and more. “We’ve always been about mountain biking,” said Walling. “So we stock everything we possibly can. Just the number of brake pads we carry, for example, is crazy.”
But although The Path is known as a mountain shop, it’s not all knobby tires and downhill protective gear; Walling sells more road bikes each year, along with all the gear to go with them.
To mark its 15-year milestone The Path threw a party at the Tustin store Thursday night. An all-day sale, 25 pounds of grilled meat for tacos, two kegs, cake, a raffle and a bike sumo wrestling tournament attracted several dozen fans, friends and customers, who huddled around fire pits as the party ran late into the evening.
Among them was Dennis Duty, whom Walling credits as being one of The Path’s first customers and the inspiration behind the store’s opening. “Dennis took me mountain biking for the first time, in maybe 1993. I was just a kid,” said Walling. “Then he showed me a few things about bike maintenance, and I was really hooked.”
Duty, a welder by trade who dabbles in bike framebuilding, said that it wasn’t long before Walling outdid him—on the trail and with a wrench. “He was a young man who had never worked on certain things, so I showed him one or two things and he just catapulted from there,” said Duty. “Now I bring all my bikes to him. I trust him more that I trust myself to work on bikes.”
But it’s more than mechanical know-how and the large selection of product that keeps customers coming back to The Path. According to Duty, it’s also the culture Walling has cultivated over the years.
“Tani has never been afraid to show up after hours and help somebody coming back from a night ride,” said Duty. “He’s earned all the respect he’s got. There’s no frills or fluff; it’s genuine.”
This month, The Path also celebrates the one-year anniversary of its second store in Orange County’s Live Oak Canyon, which opened in October 2012. A party will be held on Thursday, Oct. 24, with food, beverages and entertainment from 6 to 10 p.m.