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Pandemic, Year One: Jim Welsh of State College: Losing A Job And Starting A Business

Jim Welsh
courtesy of Jim Welsh

We asked WPSU listeners to share their experience of this past year for our series, Pandemic, Year One. For today’s story, WPSU’s Kristine Allen spoke with a bicycle mechanic from State College who was lost his job due to COVID-19, then started his own business.

“I’ve always had a way with bicycles and a love for mechanical things. You know, take them apart, figure out how they work, that kind of thing.”

Jim Welsh of State College said he’s been working as a bicycle mechanic since he was about 14 years old.  He enjoys riding, too, around local trials.

“Mountain bikes, yes,” Welsh said. “Like Rothrock Forest. I’ve been getting my kids into it.  So places like Colyer Lake.”

Welsh has an 11-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. His wife teaches at Bellefonte High School.  And they didn’t know, when the pandemic started, just how it was about to throw them for a loop.

“This time last year, things started shutting down, with the schools being closed,” he said. “And it wasn’t really until June, when things started to open up again, that I found out enough things have changed that I wasn’t needed at my old job anymore.”

Without warning, Welsh was laid off, losing a job in the only career he had known.

“It was a shock, certainly. Bicycles have been the thing that I’ve done pretty much all my adult life.  And having to, at age 47, start thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your life… I took a temporary job at a local home improvements store to keep paying the bills while I made a plan for what I wanted to do.”

Then Welsh chose to be proactive. He got together with a friend and started talking about starting a bicycle repair business.

“In the meantime, a third person, who is my current business partner, caught wind of what we were doing.  He is actually in the bicycle manufacturing business.  So he already had a good chunk of the tools required to run a bike business.”

For Welsh and his future business partner, the pandemic seemed just the right time to start a bicycle repair business that makes house calls.

“We realized that with everybody staying at home, or working at home – not wanting to go downtown or deal with crowds – a mobile service, where we come to you: limit the contact, limit the hassle, was going to be a big part of our plan.”

But for a mobile bike repair shop, you need a whole lot of space on wheels.

Credit Jim Welsh / courtesy of Jim Welsh
courtesy of Jim Welsh
Jim Welsh works on a bicycle inside his mobile repair shop.

“We turned towards searching to find the correct vehicle to meet our needs, and once we got the vehicle it was really just all hands on deck to get it ready and make it a fully-mobile, full-service bicycle shop.”

Welsh said he and his partner found a nice tall van by the end of October. Then they spent a couple of months outfitting it with everything they need to get the business rolling.

“All the tools needed to fix any problem that you come across on a bicycle.  We have several large onboard batteries so that we’re self-powered throughout the day.  No need to plug in to run tools or compressors or extra lights.”

The business is called “Blacklist Bikes.”  And, as Welsh pointed out, the pandemic provided an opportunity to make it happen.

“And I think the way that society has changed now,” Welsh said, “it was a good time.  That’s why we did the push to really get it going this spring, before people slip back into old habits.”

For Blacklist Bikes, the show is already on the road.  And Welsh is back in the business of bicycles.

“Yeah, the phone has started ringing, word is getting around. And I kind of need to start tapering my job at the home improvement store down to allow more time for this.”

Credit Jim Welsh / courtesy of Jim Welsh
courtesy of Jim Welsh
The Blacklist Bikes mobile repair shop.

Kristine Allen is Program Director of WPSU-FM. She also files feature stories for WPSU on the arts, culture, science, and more. When she's not at WPSU, Kris enjoys playing folk fiddle, acting, singing and portrait-sketching. She is also a self-confessed "science geek." Kris started working in public radio in college, at age 17, and says she "just couldn't stop."
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