CHICAGO — Coffee and bicycles are parked as a pair at Heritage General Store, a unique shop that fills the first floor of a turn-of-the-century building on Lincoln Ave. in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood.
“The cultures of coffee and bikes overlap so much,” said Michael Salvatore, the owner of Heritage. “The cyclists love coffee. It’s crazy, it’s a natural fit.”
Salvatore is a fifth generation Chicagoan, who was raised in the city and attended Loyola Academy in Wilmette.
In 2007, he moved to New York to become a trader, but left the financial industry after the crash in 2008. He decided to pursue his passion: building bicycles. While working in Queens, and selling bikes at street fairs, he found that shoppers were more at ease — and willing to chat — with a cup of coffee.
“I was blown away at how easy it was to approach people who had a coffee in hand, or a muffin, or a drink, I was like one day when I want to do this concept, I want to pair that – do the two together,” Salvatore said.
He and his wife moved back to Chicago and opened Heritage. On one side of the shop, there’s a fully functioning café, with coffee drinks, teas, hot chocolate, and plenty of breakfast foods.
“We’ve definitely used both sides of the store,” said Liz Wilson, a longtime Heritage customer who was working on her laptop and sipping coffee on a recent afternoon.
A few steps away, and around the back, the shop switches gears and becomes a bicycle shop.
“My wife got a flat tire on her bike, so we took it over here, which we always do,” said customer Andrew French, who also buys coffee at Heritage. “It’s definitely a one stop shop.”
Bike mechanics – with coffee nearby – work out-in-the-open, tinkering with chains and tightening brakes.
“To me it’s about coffee and a show, almost like a theatre,” Salvatore said. “So, you come in and you have your morning coffee, and having the bike shop there, with mechanics working on bikes, people engaged with conversation I thought it added an element to the coffee shop that created an energy.”
Heritage doesn’t just fix bikes. It makes them. The company’s name is a nod to the city’s biking roots, once the e bicycle manufacturing capital of America. In the 1890s, a reported 88 Chicago-based companies produced nearly two-thirds of the bicycles in the United States. Later, Chicago-based Schwinn dominated the industry.
“My goal wasn’t hey let’s be a Schwinn or be a Murray, my goal was hey, let’s pay homage, let’s celebrate the heritage of that cycling culture, the manufacturing,” Salvatore said. “Let’s be proud of where these things were made.”
The coffee shop is also a way for Salvatore to display pride in his own heritage. “I raided my parents’ basement for all their antiques and all the stuff that they weren’t using – and they were happy to get rid of it, and if you look around to this day, it’s basically my house that I grew up in,” he said.
Sprinkled throughout the café, a are family heirlooms like vintage record players, a gramophone, and an Underwood typewriter.
“I’m from Chicago, it’s in my blood,” Salvatore said. “It’s just a matter of working hard putting our heads down and trying to do the best we can with what we got.”