Lifelong islander Brian Starr started a bike shop in Burton out of a box truck next door to his family’s auto shop in 2014. Now he and his wife, Deja, are set to launch the grand opening of a brick and mortar store in town between Cafe Luna and Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union this Friday.
To make it happen, he said it took a keen sense of what he wanted to do, and also, a leap of faith.
“The biggest thing I’ve tried to do is make this more of a community-oriented shop, a service for the community,” he said of his location in Burton.
Brian has spent a large part of his life thinking about how people travel from one place to another. He even described himself as having been “imported to Vashon hours after [his] birth.” At the auto shop, he said he started a small engine repair business in the fourth grade to fund hobbies such as mountain biking and go-karting.
“I grew up there working on all things mechanical,” he said. Eventually, he worked his way up to cars as a service advisor working for the family business, but he said he discovered a true passion for bikes while an apprentice at the former Big Tree Bikes in Seattle.
According to Brian, most people don’t account for the cost of upkeep, ownership and maintenance of a vehicle — they often expect them to work at all times and can be caught by surprise when something goes wrong.
“Ownership of a vehicle is a privilege. As a society, we view it more as right,” he said. “Whereas with bicycles, people still appreciate it for what it is. I still feel people view bicycles as a privilege, and they’re always excited to get it back when it’s working.”
As his own family was growing, Brian was considering going back to school for a change of direction. But he wasn’t sure it would be the right choice.
Enter Deja, who suggested he pursue his happiness and use the money for school to start Vashon Bikes.
The couple purchased the box truck from Brian’s father, who had been using it for storage. They towed it to the property behind the Burton Coffee Stand and refitted the inside. Money was tight — there was a fair amount of expensive bike repair equipment Brian needed to purchase in order to get the shop up and running. Today, he runs the business solo, offering tune-ups, repairs and bicycle rentals for exploring the island. But Deja, who owns Vashon BodyWork, said Brian has outgrown the truck. She will continue with her own business in addition to helping in the new bike shop.
“The larger space will allow us to accommodate more people,” she said, noting that a wait list for service in the bike shop can run as long as three to four weeks. But to Brian’s customers, she said, it’s worth it.
“People will wait to get in, and we honestly hate doing that to people, and so the nice thing about the [new] space is we can work on the bikes immediately and get them out.”
In the new space, the couple will continue to offer all of their regular services available in Burton in the box truck, including repairs and bicycles sales. In addition, they will have a community repair stand, offer classes for both the public and those wishing to learn to become bicycle technicians, as well as hold special events throughout the year.
Brian said he is hoping to use the box truck as a satellite location to expand his reach across the island for rental bikes and for emergency repair service, but he expects that to come later.
The new bike shop in town will only be a short distance away from Rock Island Pub and Pizza, which Brian’s sister, Maisie, purchased with her partner earlier this year.
To Brian, the bike shop is more than a business.
“We have such a large array of customers, and it brings them all back … When you see someone ride a bike, especially someone who hasn’t ridden one in a long time, it pretty much always puts a smile on their face as if they were a kid.”