When he co-opened the Valencia Cyclery in 1985, Paul Olszewski’s favorite part of the job was working with people.
Thirty-eight years later, this hasn’t changed.
“I like seeing people get out on bikes,” he said. “And I very much enjoy working with the beginning bike rider — it’s such a pleasure to see their excitement of getting a bike.”
Olszewski began working at the Broadmoor Bicycle Shop in Daly City in 1982, where the owner, Lloyd Stephenson, had the idea to open a shop in San Francisco. In 1985, Stephenson put up the money, and Olszewski put in the work to open at 1077 Valencia St.
Since then, Valencia Cyclery has expanded into a two-building operation that carries some 600 bikes for sale in one building, and repairs bikes in the other.
Formerly an environmental conservationist for the Peace Corps in Guatemala, Olszewski learned to speak Spanish, which would become a key reason for opening shop in the Mission. Olszewski also makes it a point to have at least two other bilingual Spanish speakers on staff.
“It was huge to get a toehold here in the neighborhood,” he said.
Already, Olszewski had a master’s in marriage, family and child counseling from San Francisco State University. But bikes proved more alluring.
Olszewski and Stephensen soon expanded, two buildings down, at 1065 Valencia St. A year after opening, Olszewski took full ownership of the shop as he worked to pay Stephenson back for his investment.
Meanwhile, the owner of 1065 Valencia St. would rent out an increasing number of rooms to the cyclery until, in 1988, he sold the entire building to the Olszewski, who has used the space to repair bicycles.
A Neighborhood Business
The same year, Olszewski — who was into photography — was taking pictures across the street at what was previously the well-known Brazilian nightclub Bajones. It was there he met Zenia, who was dancing at Carnaval.
“She caught my eye, and we couldn’t communicate because she was on a float,” he said. “But I passed my business card to her through a policeman on the street.”
A couple weeks later, Paul and Zenia met at Bajones and started going out. After a little over a year, on Oct. 15, 1989, the two got married.
Today, Paul Olszewski and Zenia Olszewski live in Brisbane and together handle the office work and backend work for the cyclery.
Though he bikes less than he used to, Paul still takes his bicycle to work.
Paul said that while the bike business has shrunk compared to its heyday, having a balanced business — by selling bikes and accessories and offering repairs — helps retain staff members through the slower times of the year.
“If we had to let everybody go because there’s no work, we would lose a lot of very good and experienced employees,” he said.
Valencia Cyclery has very much been a family store, Olszewski said — one that makes it a point to sell kid-sized bikes despite these being less profitable, and one that opened at a time when most bike shops in the city were boutique.
“I never went with that philosophy,” he said. “I felt we were what we needed to be: A family shop that serves all kinds of riders. A shop that serves families … It was all part of who we were in the Mission — that we would basically serve anybody.”