Jerry Kraynick bends at the waist, hands on hips, and peers over his glasses. He gestures towards a bike. “Throw it up on the stand, and I’ll look at it.”
Gears, tires, shifters and derailleurs line the ceilings, walls and, in most corners, the floors of Kraynick's cramped three-story repair shop in Garfield. There’s just enough space for patrons to pull their bikes through the front door and into a shared workspace where seven decades years worth of Kraynick family tools are available to use, free of charge.
The 73-year-old Oakmont resident takes it easy on first-timers, and encourages veteran customers to do the same. You need help? No problem. Kraynick says it's all about encouraging camaraderie and teaching folks to fix their bikes themselves.
"If you're working on your bike and you see somebody back there that needs some help and you know how to help them, you have to help them,” he said. “And when you're done helping them, you tell them the same thing. They have to help the next person.”
He's been the son of a store owner for most of his life, and this year, Kraynick says he's ready to retire.
A community staple
Gerald "Jerry" Kraynick was a high school teacher for four years after college when he opted for a break and went to work for his dad, Steve Kraynick, in his Oakland shop -- the culmination of a hobby-turned-business picked up after years toiling in the hot muck of steel mills.
The younger Kraynick took over in 1976 and moved to Garfield where he could buy a cheap building and spare himself a lengthy mortgage. He calls the neighborhood, at that time, a “war zone.”
He still gates his building at night, but says the mood has improved and buildings are selling quickly. He wants his business to continue the way he’s operated it for decades, which he says would mean the next person to take over would also need to be debt-free.
“For 40 years, I’ve never had a mortgage, never had rent. I have no employees, so that saves a lot of money,” he said. “And it takes the pressure off me to sell things.”
He doesn’t sell very many bikes. The shop functions as more of a venue for free advice and hands-on experience. He says most revenue comes from the parts he sells, and the occasional service performed. More often, one of a small team of loyal volunteers pops in to teach.
The unconventional business model works, he says, because he’s giving people the confidence to ride. The most common fix is how to change a flat tire.
“Once you do that, you're usually OK, because a lot of the other stuff is something that you can just get home and address later on,” he said. “But a flat tire is what keeps people from riding, and it shouldn’t.”
He’s known for trading his know-how for other services. “I had a surgeon come in one day and he had been a regular customer,” he said. “And I asked him, I said, 'You know, I think I have a hernia.' He said, 'Let me take a look.' He looked: 'Yeah, you do'. And I said, 'Well, my health insurance isn't very good.' He said, 'Well, we'll barter what it doesn't pick up.' So I figured if you could barter a hernia operation you could barter pretty much anything and I have.”
But running a bike shop is a tough trade.
The National Bicycle Dealers Association estimates 40 percent of specialty bike shops nationwide have closed since 2000 as more sales move online.
Dr. Rocky Cristobal, 36, of Bloomfield, first went to the shop eight years ago as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh.
He relied on his road bike and wanted to convert it into a single speed using instructions he found online. A friend laughed and suggested he talk to Kraynick.
Cristobal, now a dad, latched onto Kraynick’s ethos immediately. He volunteered off and on until left to attend medical school in the Philippines, his native country. When he returned to Pittsburgh and started studying for his medical board examinations, he became a regular volunteer. Now he's Kraynick’s chosen successor.
“I see bicycles as machines that could empower people. You know, it's cheaper than a bus pass,” he said. “It's healthy. It's getting safer. The shop being here lets a lot of people who may not have the resources to own and bike and maintain a bike”
These days he's often found in the shop reorganizing or checking someone's breaks -- his 2-foot-tall, 3-year-old shadow, Rocco, in tow. Staying in Pittsburgh with his family was important to Cristobal, and he’s had a hard time landing a local medical residency. He'll keep trying, but says he's excited to embrace a new path with Kraynick's shop.
Kraynick and Cristobal created a crowdfunding page on GoFundMe to help raise the $420,000 Cristobal needs to buy out the business – including thousands in parts and tools – and the 2,000-square-foot building it’s housed in. They’ve raised about $11,300 since October, and if they don’t reach the goal, Cristobal says he might try to finance the building.
The pair acknowledge they've gotten some negative feedback for the ask; people are skeptical about helping someone else buy a business. But Cristobal says it’s the only way he can ensure the shop and its good works will stick around well into the future.
Long-time volunteer Robert Walsh, 63, of Lawrenceville, said Cristobal embodies Kraynick’s spirit.
“He has that humility and kind of give-back thing,” he said.
When Walsh retired after a 30-year engineering career, he started helping kids in his neighborhood tinker with their bikes. Then he took his expertise to Kraynick's. He’s one of many volunteers who works on the “Bikes Before Christmas” program at the shop.
For 14 years, volunteers have repaired bikes the Salvation Army distributes to children in need.
It’s one of the things Kraynick says he’ll miss most about running the shop when he retires, but Cristobal insists he'll be back.
This time, as a volunteer.