From the beginning –2 a.m. Thursday, July 8, 2021 – it was evident that the fire that destroyed Biketown would be just a temporary setback to owners Jim and Kelly MacDonald.
The call from the Abilene Fire Department came to the MacDonald home at 2 a.m., about a half hour after the fire was reported. By the time the MacDonalds arrived at the store on Industrial Boulevard, the damage had been done.
The building was still standing, but the interior and all the inventory, including about 75 new bicycles, older bikes left for repair, shoes, helmets, and other accessories, were gone. The loss was devastating, but because of the time of the fire, no one was on site. A friend and longtime customer, Kathy Strong, recalled the positive outlook the MacDonalds showed after the shock of the fire wore off.
“It’s just things,” Jim had commented. “No person was hurt.”
Almost a year later, the MacDonalds are still looking on the bright side as they await finishing touches on the brand new building being constructed on the same site, and the same slab, as the original. Since the fire, they have been operating out of a building next door.
Biketown originally opened on South First Street on April 1, 1997. They moved the store to the Industrial Boulevard location 10 years ago and will stage a grand opening/belated 25th anniversary celebration once they are settled in the new building.
The Ride Must Go On
Today, just like on July 8, 2021, they are knee-deep into getting ready for the annual Tour de Gap cycling event in Buffalo Gap. The event was founded in 1983 by a local bicycling club, and when the MacDonalds opened Biketown in 1997, they became sponsors.
Each year, regular leadership meetings are held in preparation for the event. Last year was no different, despite the fire that affected so many people involved with Tour de Gap, said Bill Minter, event co-director, with Mark Spurlock. Jim was at the first meeting after the fire to reassure everyone.
“He wanted everybody to know the ride should go on,” Minter said.
And it did –with a lot of help. Jim had told people who offered assistance that the immediate concern was Tour de Gap. Everyone was needed to pull it off. Much of the equipment, such as a speaker system, a tent, and coolers, were destroyed in the fire. The MacDonalds didn’t have to worry, thanks to a bevy of friends and customers.
“There was a real groundswell of community support,” Minter said.
Tour de Gap, which benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters, did go on as planned in 2021 and is set to be held again July 23-24. Go to https://tourdegap.com/for details, including registration information.
The days following the fire were hectic, but the MacDonalds were determined to carry on and make sure their lives, and the lives of their children, were as normal as possible. On the Sunday after the fire, the MacDonalds were in the familiar surroundings of Westgate Church of Christ, where they gave thanks and were consoled by friends.
“I don’t know how people get through stuff like this without faith and a church family,” Kelly said.
Faith, a positive outlook, and a bit of good fortune came together to make the path forward a little easier. Because of the supply chain disruption caused by the COVID pandemic, the MacDonalds were used to ordering products every day. The timing of the shipments couldn’t have been better after the fire.
“UPS showed up that day,” Jim said, meaning that on Friday, the day after the fire, Biketown was back in business.
Jim started contacting suppliers immediately. The shop carries Trek, Specialized, and Electra bike brands, and Jim contacted Trek on the Monday after the fire. The sales representative who took the call couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Wait, you’re open?” he asked, with a sense of amazement and admiration after hearing about the fire.
Not only open, but soon thriving again. Their temporary space was considerably smaller than the original 5,000 square-foot building, and it didn’t take long to stock it with new bikes and accessories. A space was created in the midst of the display area for Gary Fraser, the chief repairman for the past 20 years, to work his magic. The space serves its purpose but Fraser misses the old place.
“It was home,” he said. “It fit like an old shoe.”
Lessons in Rebuilding
The new building will look much like the original and Fraser will have his own space again as new and longtime customers bring in bikes for repair. All signs of the fire will be gone, but a reminder will hang from one wall–a United States flag that was flown in combat on June 4, 2004, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The flag was donated by a pilot who was stationed at Dyess Air Force Base and was a Biketown customer. The flag was discovered during demolition of the building after the fire. It had been stored in a cardboard box and miraculously escaped destruction in the fire.
“It’s totally untouched,” Kelly said.
The untouched flag was just one of the many stories that the MacDonalds tell following what could have been an end to the business they worked so hard to establish. The best stories involve their customers who responded as soon as word spread. Emotional support was an immediate need. By the time the MacDonalds arrived at the scene, the fire was out and the smoke had disappeared. But they were warned by firefighters that the inside was bad. Two inches of water covered the floor, and the smell of burned rubber filled the space.
“It hung around for a long time,” Kelly said.
But the memories of the aftermath will remain even longer. Longtime customers like Minter, Strong, and Dick Andrews will tell you that the MacDonalds are more than store owners. The community response to the fire proved it.
“That just shows how well respected they are here,” Strong said.
Having a specialty store like Biketown is unusual for a city the size of Abilene, and customers show their appreciation. Strong has been a bike rider most of her life, but got serious about it in recent years. She had a mountain bike and decided to buy a new road bike. Biketown was her first and only stop.
“They get to know you individually as a rider,” Strong said.
Andrews, owner of Andrews Furniture, shared a “lessons learned” experience with the MacDonalds after the fire. In the mid-2000s, Andrews had a store on Industrial Boulevard in addition to the one on North First Street. The Industrial Boulevard site was destroyed by fire and Andrews wrote down thoughts that followed. He titled them, “What I Learned From the Burn” and shared them with Jim after the Biketown fire. Andrews first checked out Biketown when it was in its original location on South First Street and he remains a loyal customer.
“I bought my first mountain bike there and then a road bike,” he said. Since then, he has bought several more bikes from the MacDonalds, and Andrews Furniture is a sponsor for Tour de Gap.
Bill Minter also first noticed Biketown when it was in its South First Street location. At the time, Minter had an office in the old Weather Bureau building on North First Street, just across the railroad tracks from Biketown. Minter had ridden a bicycle in college and decided to check out the new store. He acknowledged that he wasn’t “a real cyclist,” but soon learned that was why he needed the expertise that the MacDonalds could provide.
“They have always been really good at welcoming people into the sport,” Minter said. “We’re just really lucky to have that caliber store available to us in Abilene.”
The 2021 fire could have spelled the end of Biketown, but the MacDonalds and their fanbase wouldn’t hear of it.
On the morning of the Tour de Gap in 2021, volunteers began arriving about 3:30 in the morning. The first thing Jim did was gather them for a prayer. The MacDonalds will tell you that many prayers have been answered since July 8, 2021. Their friends agree and are happy to witness it.
“It was just an amazing sequence of events,” Minter said. “It’s great to see them coming back.”
By Loretta Fulton
Photos By Shayli Anne Photography