John Lefelhocz and Maxine Rantane, co-owners of the shop, said they didn’t see much of a need to change the design of the shop after the explosion in April 2018 caused them to close for almost a year and a half.
The right side of Cycle Path, 104 W. Union St., is still lined with bicycles of all sizes and colors placed in a row and hanging on the wall. The other wall is lined with bike shoes, helmets and bike seats.
“We have the same footprint,” Lefelhocz said. “We didn't see any reason to expand.”
Alec Syrvalin | FOR THE POST
John Lefelhocz (left) and Maxine Rantane (right) stand in front of their store “Cycle Path Bicycles” on Wednesday, September 11, 2019.
Lefelhocz and Rantane both attended Ohio University and have been living in Athens for 35 years. Rantane first opened the shop with another co-owner and a different name. After Rantane had problems with her previous business partner, Lefelhocz became the co-owner of Cycle Path Bicycles.
“He helped me put it back together, and we have been together ever since,” Rantane said.
The explosion happened in the apartments above Cycle Path Bicycles. One person was injured in the explosion.
Part of the upstairs wall fell onto Thai Paradise, 102 W. Union St., and left a part of the bike shop exposed. The explosion affected the roof, walls, plumbing and electrical systems of the building.
The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, Brian Bohnert, public information officer from the Ohio Department of Commerce, said in an email.
In the aftermath of the explosion, it seemed like they might not be able to reopen, Rantane said. It was hard to get a fixed timeline of when the bike shop would be able to reopen.
Lefelhocz said they spoke to business owners affected by the West Union Street fire in 2014. Those businesses continuously had delays on reopening, so they were cautious about setting a reopening date.
“We'd asked around, and no one else has sort of been through the exact same situation,” Lefelhocz said.
Rebuilding the block
West Union Street is familiar with having to rebuild businesses.
In November 2014, a fire tore through buildings on West Union Street between South Congress Street. and North Court Street.
The fire spread throughout five buildings on the block. Three of the buildings included housing rentals on the upper levels, causing 40 Ohio University students to be displaced. Ten people, including four students, three firefighters and three police officers were treated and released.
The fire started at about 4 a.m. and wasn’t fully extinguished until about 3 p.m. the same day.
Multiple businesses share the block, but the ones affected include Jack Neal Floral, Kismet, Uptown Dog, Smoke Zone Smoke Shop, The Union and Jackie O’s Public House.
Some businesses took about two years to reopen.
The Union, 18 W. Union St., and Jackie O’s, 22-24 W. Union St., reopened in 2016 and remained in the same location. Smoke Zone Smoke Shop moved its location to 80 N. Court St., and Kismet, a women’s clothing store, moved to 19 W. State St.
Jack Neal Floral, 15 W. Union St., stayed on the same block but moved its location across the street from where the fire had occurred.
Bohnert said in an email the case file for the investigation on the fire is still open.
Although Uptown Dog, a t-shirt store, was spared from fire damage, it was severely damaged when an adjacent building collapsed into it.
Additionally, the store suffered from water and smoke damage that destroyed everything in the shop.
Midge Mazur | WEB DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
Firefighters view the damage of an explosion in the 100 block of West Union Street on Sunday, April 15, 2018.
Mary Cheadle was the owner for Uptown Dog and now owns 10 West Clothing Company. She said Uptown Dog relocated to 9 W. Union St. in early 2015 after the fire.
Once the building was repaired, 10 West Clothing, a boutique located at 10 W. Union St., opened.
Although both businesses were opened, Cheadle said they still struggled financially. By the time both Uptown Dog and 10 West Clothing opened, a portion of the street was blocked off with gates for construction and potential customers weren’t walking by.
“By then, people had found alternative routes,” Cheadle said. “So nobody was using Union Street.”
In November 2016, the t-shirt store and the boutique combined into 10 West Clothing Company, 10 W. Union St., to become a one-stop shop for students to buy OU merchandise and other clothes they may need.
“We're doing a fair amount of business,” Cheadle said. “We still have to recuperate the financial loss.”
Due to rebuilding and relocated businesses, buildings on the West Union Street block remained empty for years.
Ohio University Credit Union, 12 W. Union St., and Starbucks, 16 W. Union St., are two new businesses that opened on the block.
Back on track
Thai Paradise was closed from April 2018 to June 2018 due to the explosion, said Vong Vengphaisane, owner of Thai Paradise.
“The rocks were on the roof and down inside the kitchen,” Vengphaisane said.
Debris from the second-floor of the building, located to the left of Thai Paradise, broke through the ceiling of the restaurant, causing damage to the roof and floors. Other damage was to the patio area as well as a broken gas line and water pipe.
Vengphaisane said she is glad to see the building is back in one piece.
“It is good to have them back,” she said.
When it came to rebuilding Cycle Path Bicycles, Lefelhocz said there were a lot of unknown factors.
“It wasn't like there was a blueprint for it,” he said.
The upper level is still under construction but will be apartments like they were before.
Lefelhocz said initial reports from their insurance company said nothing criminal had caused the explosion, so they were able to start to rebuild.
“Everybody gave us the green light,” Lefelhocz said.
It was a lot of hard work, especially over the past couple of months, to get the store ready to reopen. The biggest change was removing a display case, so now there is more room in the store.
Merchandise in the store includes bikes, gear and other equipment both new and from before the explosion. Some of the merchandise has been in storage since the explosion. Even though they opened at the end of August, they are still unloading merchandise to put in the shop.
The co-owners were worried about how their business would be affected after being closed for a year and a half. The shop, however, has been busy with customers happy to see it open again.
“It's really nice to have the support of so many people,” Rantane said. “We thought they would have given up on us, but they didn't.”
Correction: A previous version of this report incorrectly spelled the name of Mary Cheadle. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.