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Meet Tami & Chase Spenst of The Wheelhouse in Arts District

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tami Spenst.

Tami, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
When Chase and I started riding bicycles to get around, it was like the whole city opened up- it was magic. The character of LA really exists in all those places between your destinations and, on a bicycle, you actually see the neighborhoods. You hear the sounds and smell the smells, you stumble upon little taquerias and shops you would have never seen from a car. You just miss so much behind a windshield and you’re so separated from your surroundings. When you’re riding a bicycle, you become part of the fabric of the city- it’s very connecting.

We started out by just riding to grab coffee and get around where we were living in downtown because it was so much easier than driving, but the more we rode, the more we wanted to ride and the farther we wanted to go. We started exploring new neighborhoods and looking for excuses to hop on our bikes instead of driving- it was just so much more fun. And, along the way, we met a lot of people who wanted to do what we were doing, on bicycles like ours, but they didn’t know where to look or even how to begin.

We started to wonder why LA doesn’t have an everyday bicycle culture. We have better weather than any other major city, it’s mostly flat and people tend to spend their day to day within a bikable distance of where they live. I mean, that’s the greatest secret to living in LA, right? Move as close as possible to where you work and want to spend most of your time so you drive as little as possible. Still, even neighborhoods are spread out, so we drive if we can’t easily walk because it doesn’t seem like there’s another option. But there is.

Ultimately, The Wheelhouse was an answer to the question- how do we get more people to do this? How do we create a culture where people ride bicycles to just get around? The Wheelhouse is the bike shop we, and all those other people we met, were looking for.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Oh no, not at all. This journey has been about as smooth as a ride down Santa Monica Boulevard. I think some of the struggles we experienced come with the territory of building and opening a new business and then we also had challenges that were exceptionally unique. This is our first time opening a business, so there’s a huge amount of learning that comes with that. And, when you’re creating a new concept, there’s no formula to follow or industry standards you can measure yourself against to see how you’re doing or other companies to learn from about what works or what doesn’t work. There’s a lot of trial and error, and saying yes to everything and then figuring it out as you go. We had a pretty substantial space build out, which always has its fair share of surprises and bumps. We’re also in an up-and-coming area that’s still off the beaten bath which means finding us is hard even if you know about us and we’re surrounded by major construction, including the main inlet road which shut down right before we opened. In a few years, our location will be amazing. For now, and to get started, we’ve had to get really creative and assertive about building awareness and drawing foot traffic.

The Wheelhouse – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The heart of our shop is community so everything we do is with that in mind. At the end of the day, we want to get more people doing their everyday life by bicycle because it connects us to each other, it’s fun and its kind to our planet. Coffee and bikes are so universal, but notoriously intimidating and we don’t think that should be the case. We’re here to start the conversation, to help inspire an everyday bicycle lifestyle- whatever that looks like for you, however that fits into your life.

You don’t have to come into our shop knowing what you want or need. You don’t even have to come in looking for a bicycle. But if you do – everyone on our team is friendly and approachable and easy to talk to. You just tell us where you want to go and what you want to do and we help you fill in the rest.

In addition to a full coffee bar and a full retail experience that includes bicycles and accessories, we also have a full-service department which specializes in taking the bicycle you have (you know, the one sitting in a corner that you haven’t ridden in years) and rebuilding it into the bicycle you ride.

All of the bicycles we carry are steel framed and built for daily adventure- everything from errands to commuting to bike packing. Our bike brands include Tokyobike, Handsome, Surly, Rivendell and Tern. We also have a curated collection of bike and lifestyle accessories – baskets, bags, blankets, bells, books, wine bottle carriers for your bike, etc.- a lot of which are handmade by local and US-based artisans.

Our roasting partner is Olympia Coffee from Olympia, Washington. Our tea partner is Arts District-based August Uncommon. Our pastries are from Superba Food & Bread in Venice. Our juices are from Pressed Juicery also started here in Los Angeles.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The other day, on our way into the shop, we passed three people on bicycles that we put them on. It was such a great moment – to see three people navigating the world differently because we built a shop that helped them do that.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jennifer Young
Heidi Zumbrun
Ethan Scott

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