After running Wheaton’s bicycle shop for over 40 years, Margaret LeKander is about to hand the reins to her right-hand man, bicycle expert Hans Axelsen, and his wife, Jeni. But it’s unlikely that the Flathead’s oldest bike shop, which has been in business since 1918, will change all that much. It’s a local staple, and has been a stalwart of Kalispell’s downtown for decades.
“People are very appreciative that we’ve been here for almost 100 years,” Margaret said. “I get thank yous all the time. People are so appreciative that we haven’t gone by the wayside.”
As the daughter of a hard-working Midwestern family that owns seven bicycle shops in Minneapolis, Margaret has been committed to Wheaton’s ever since she saw it in an industry newsletter of her father’s. She bought the store from Bernard Wheaton, the son of founder Frank, in 1976 and moved to the Big Sky State to pave her own path in the world of bicycle sales and repair.
“It took a huge tenacity to stay on track,” Margaret said. “But there was no option to walk away.”
She persevered for many years, manning the shop with only one other employee during tough times. Now, she employs four full-time and eight seasonal workers. For 14 years, she lived in the 1,800-square foot apartment above the shop, which she has since converted into the Kalispell Hostel.
Still, Margaret said that she never worried too much about the shop’s future. Even during the nation-wide recession, Wheaton’s stayed afloat as Flathead locals turned to bicycles as their primary form of transportation. Not to mention that she’s made a point of diversifying her product base as trends change, offering toys, ice skates, skateboards, snowboards, and snowbikes.
“We have changed and re-niched over the years,” Margaret said. “But we’ve stayed in the same location. That is a huge plus.”
There’s an ever-growing population of commuters, off-roaders, fitness fanatics, and families that swear by Wheaton’s. But generations of families still come to Wheaton’s for all their biking needs. Young cyclers often grow up to bring their own children into the store for a kid’s bicycle, passing down the tradition.
“Kalispell has a really nice small town feel,” Margaret said. “You know everybody, there’s a real community feeling, and it’s very supportive.”
That’s why Margaret and Hans hope that, with a bit more tenacity and community support, Wheaton’s will stick around for another 100 years.
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