Derailleur Bike Shop Café brewing near Butler-Freeport Community Trail
A Summit Township couple plan to open the first café and bike rental shop catering to Butler-Freeport Community Trail users.
Derailleur Bike Shop Café will have a grand opening on July 4.
Gavin Archer and Dee Stephen have spent four years renovating the former J.J. Dittmer Mercantile and the adjacent Dittmer home, where they live.
The 128-year-old structures are about 100 feet away from the trail on Dittmer Road, off of Herman Road in Summit Township. It is between the Sheetz Road and Bonniebrook Road trailheads.
“We wanted to incorporate the bicycle shop into something that would be useful for all users of the trail, not just cycling,” said Stephen, 45. “We're hoping it opens opportunities for people to gather.”
The bike shop will open later this summer with 20 bikes available to rent.
In the winter, they plan to rent cross-country skis and snowshoes.
“Sometimes when you have a destination to go in the winter, you go just to get the coffee and you might use the trail,” Stephen said.
The café will sell coffee, smoothies and other drinks, pre-packaged foods, ice cream and trail accessories like water bottles and apparel.
Bike shops, restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts catering to trail users are common on other trails such as the Montour Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage.
The Progress Fund has given at least 30 loans to help similar ventures get up and running, said David Kahley, president and CEO.
“Not one has failed; they're all doing well,” he said. “Bike riders are coming and they're desperate for services. It's a huge opportunity for the region.”
The Progress Fund is a Greensburg-based nonprofit that provides loans mainly to small rural businesses, with a focus on tourism.
Archer and Stephen are optimistic that the café and bike shop will become a frequent pit stop for trail users.
“When there is good weather, the trail is very busy, especially on weekends and holidays,” said Archer, 50.
“It's like a little highway,” Stephen said.
Chris Ziegler, president of the Butler-Freeport Community Trail Council said she thinks Derailleur is going to benefit trail users.
“There isn't anything like this along the trail,” she said. “The history of the building alone is going to draw them inside. Most users go to trails because of what amenities they have.”
A four-year venture
Archer and Stephen purchased the property in June 2010. Until they moved to the area in March, they handled renovations from their home in Orange County, Calif., where they lived for 12 years.
Each would make several trips to the area each year to get work done.
Neighbors have been a big help by offering to haul away scrap and cut down trees, they said.
The idea of a café-bike shop developed because Stephen, who grew up in Greensburg, wanted to move back to Pennsylvania to be closer to her family.
Instead of getting new jobs in their field of archaeology, they decided to work for themselves.
The avid bikers decided they wanted a home near a trail where they could start a business “oriented with the sport we love,” Stephen said.
And so Derailleur was born.
The name is a bicycle part that changes the gears in the front and back. It is so-called because it derails the chains into a different position.
“We also thought about that fact that it's a rails-to-trails, so it's been ‘derailed,' ” Stephen said.
The shop, however, almost never was.
Archer and Stephen decided to put their dream on the backburner after Stephen's parents toured the Dittmer house and reported back on the subpar condition and the amount of renovation work involved.
That was until a few months later, in June 2010, when the Realtor called to see if they were still interested and the owner accepted what the couple said they could afford.
“We kind of panicked a little bit and said ‘Oh my gosh, I think we just bought a house!' ” Stephen said.
After seeing it in person for the first time Memorial Day weekend in 2010, they knew they had made the right decision.
“It was exactly what we were looking for,” Stephen said.
She and Archer have maintained the historic feel of the house and the store, keeping the original wood around the windows and doorways, the built-in shelving and the old mercantile counters.
From the start, the couple knew the kind of hard work they were getting into, but it's taken a lot longer than either of them thought it would to get the home to livable condition and the store ready to open.
“We've had some things that we discovered that were setbacks, but I was surprised how good the condition was,” Archer said.
The first step was to rip up the flooring. Archer said the most layers he counted were seven in one area of the house.
“There was vinyl on top of carpet and carpet on top of vinyl,” he said. He said he found newspapers from 1926 that were used for lining between the layers.
Other tasks included rewiring the entire electrical system, replacing the roof and tearing down the heavily water-damaged former railroad ticket office/post office that was attached to the store.
They left the ticket office front porch and wall standing in hopes of keeping the façade as an entrance to an outdoor area they hope to build next year.
Their trials and triumphs are documented in four photo books, one for each year of the renovations.
There is still plenty to do in both the store and home — they still don't have a functional kitchen and multiple rooms, and an attached apartment still need renovated.
During their renovations they found an old metal Dittmer's candies sign and an American Railway Express sign.
They plan to display some of the historic items they found on the built-in shelves that line two walls of the store.
“We want to keep all the local memories alive,” Archer said.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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