Despite owning Missoula Bicycle Works for 15 years, Alex Gallego said buying a bike shop wasn’t the plan when he first came to Missoula.
Gallego and his wife, Sarah Halvorson, moved from Colorado in 2000 when she took a job as a geography professor at the University of Montana. A high school teacher, Gallego planned on finding a new job, but there were no open positions in Missoula.
A former college cyclist who had returned to coach the team at the University of Colorado, Gallego said he met Michael Schmitt, then the sole owner of Missoula Bicycle Works, by happenstance at a party.
“The notion of owning a bike shop had always occurred to me, but I always thought it would be a hobby after a teaching career,” Gallego said. “I had worked in bike shops going back to the mid-80s and he was looking to sell and something about it just seemed right.”
Schmitt and Monte Snyder started the store, which just marked 20 years in business, as a do-it-yourself shop in 1996, and started selling mountain bikes after moving it downtown.
Gallego added road bikes to the shop's selection and business grew. It moved to the Hip Strip, then in November 2004, the shop relocated for the third time to its current location, also on Higgins Avenue. One good part of moving a bike shop two blocks is that the merchandise is mobile.
“I called a bunch of buddies and bought a bunch of pizza and beer,” Gallego said. “It was get on a bike, ride it over, then walk back and get another one.”
He thinks that move has placed Missoula Bicycle Works in its permanent home.
“I want to continue what we’re doing now. We like where we are and have no desire for multiple locations,” Gallego said. “I want to put my energy into promoting cycling, working hard to advocate for cycling access on roads and trails.”
During his 15-year tenure running Missoula Bicycle Works, Gallego said the cycling community in Missoula has continued to grow, which he credited to the variety of high-quality trails in the Rattlesnake, Pattee Canyon and Blue Mountain areas just outside of town. He’s also active in helping the growing cyclocross racing community that started its weekly Wednesday night series this month.
“This week we had 107 riders at the races,” Gallego said. "Missoula is such an outdoor-oriented town. People are active, and that's one of the big draws.”
For his own shop, Gallego said it’s his employees who have become the “heart and soul” that makes the place work.
“My priority is to the people that walk in the back door every morning,” he said. "We want to continue to serve the Missoula community, and I haven’t lost any enthusiasm for what I’m doing here.”