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key business

Northfield bookstore owner finds niche selling bikes

By AZNA A. AMIRA Photos by THOM CAYA

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earful that booksellers in Northfield were on the verge of extinction (the other two independent bookstores in town — River City and Bookfellows — had just closed), the worried bibliophile marched into “Monkey See, Monkey Read” and clutched owner Jerry Bilek’s arm and said: “I just wanted to make sure you’re still here. What’s the prognosis?” “I am, and the prognosis is good,” replied Bilek with an impish smile, full of the confidence that has enabled him to find — and keep — a foothold in the wild and woolly world of bookselling. What accounts for such optimism at a time when independent booksellers are disappearing daily, and when even the two behemoths of the business — Border’s and Barnes & Noble — are struggling for survival in the shadow of Amazon. com? It’s Bilek’s blend of his own passionate interests and prescient business sense, nicely meshed with those of his local customer base. Uber-literate Northfielders take seriously founder John North’s motto of “vision, values and vitality,” priding themselves on being aware and effective global and local citizens. Bilek has grafted onto Northfield’s three Vs his own

Monkey See, Monkey Read owner Jerry Bilek holds one of the Kona bicycles he sells from his store in downtown Northfield. For every two sold here, one is sent to Africa at no cost.

three Bs: business, books and bicycles. Bicycles in a bookstore? Yep. Monkey See, Monkey Read is the only bookstore in the nation that sells bicycles, according to Bilek. These Kona Africabikes are more than your ordinary bicycle. Monkey See, Monkey Ride Last year, an article in Bicycle Magazine announced that it was partnering with Bristol Meyer Squibb Pharmaceuticals to create the “BikeTown Africa” program with Kona bicycles, a sturdy

bicycle designed for HIV health care workers in Africa to negotiate the tough terrain between them and their critically ill patients. The Kona bikes are also just the thing for folks in Northfield and the region seeking a way to save on gas for trips around town, to work, to the grocery store, or to the coffee shop. The bonus is that for every two bikes sold here, one is sent to Africa at no cost to recipients. “I took the idea from Three Cups of Tea,” Bilek said, re-

ferring to the popular book by Greg Mortenson detailing the author’s harrowing struggle to establish schools for villagers in Afghanistan. “It showed what one person could do to change the world.” Bilek wondered what he could do without leaving Northfield or taking on the Taliban. He found the answer in a Bicycling Magazine article. An inveterate cyclist who owns four bikes (including a Kona) for commuting, recreation and racing, Bilek got excited. >>>

AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2009 35C

35Cbusiness.com

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35C August / September  

The August / September issue of 35C business magazine

35C August / September  

The August / September issue of 35C business magazine

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