Dean E. Lewis knew from the start he wouldn’t be bossed around.
“My plan from the beginning was to have my own business,” Lewis said, leaning on a counter full of bike gear, sunglasses and other sports paraphernalia.
“By age 10 or 12 years old, I knew. I never had any plans to be working for anybody.”
Lewis, 61, owner of Dean’s SportPlus, is his own boss — and has been for half of his life. Out of his Oak Harbor store, he’s sold and repaired bicycles for three decades, serving recreational riders and racers as well as generations of families.
“Our customers are repeat customers so when they have kids, they’ll come by and get a kid’s bike,” says Lewis.
He’s moved his store three times, but settled in at 730 N. Oak Harbor St. for the past 15 years.
Serious bike racers and riders also know him as the “go-to guy.”
“He’s the guy to come to for crazy parts,” said customer Dave Blais, who stopped by one recent morning to find a part for a gear shift for one of his six or seven bicycles. “He’s got the junk yard and I’ve got bikes that are 20 years old.”
Lewis is one of the few African-Americans to own a business in Oak Harbor, that is nearly 73 percent white, 5 percent African-American, 10 percent Asian and 9.3 percent Hispanic, according to the 2015 U.S. Census.
February is Black History Month, so Lewis reflected on his status as being one of the first African-Americans to open a store in Oak Harbor that’s still going strong.
“I’m the only African-American to own a brick-and-mortar store in Oak Harbor that’s not a restaurant, barbecue joint, a barber shop or a beauty salon,” he proudly says.
Lewis says the city of Oak Harbor annually used to recognize its handful of black-owned businesses with an event during Black History month but if they’ve done it recently, he laughed “they haven’t told me about it.”
Half of revenue at Dean’s SportsPlus comes from repairs. And it’s not just from flat tires and springtime tune-ups.
Baby strollers, tennis rackets, and ski bindings are also part of his “Plus.”
“Dean fixed my stroller’s brake that the Internet told me couldn’t be fixed,” Lindsay Overmars Marchand wrote in an online review. “And at a great price in less than a day. I was super impressed with his service and knowledge.”
Lewis is also certified to string tennis rackets and fit ski boots to bindings.
His store is mostly filled with bicycles and all things related to bicycles; helmets, gloves, those weird skintight shorts and shirts, mirrors, lights, reflective vests and “hydration” systems.
“These days, it’s almost too much product and not enough customers,” he quips.
Lewis grew up in East St. Louis and ended up in Oak Harbor in the usual way, as a military spouse. Prior to moving to Whidbey, he and his wife lived in Japan for three years.
He rode bikes, raced bikes, and wanted a job involving bikes. Working at Oak Harbor’s large sporting good store, ChuckDann’s in the 1980s, he became a manager and learned the ropes of retail sales.
Then he decided to strike out on his own in 1988.
“I started out with my tool box and a rental space and a little sign in the window,” Lewis recalls. Slowly, his inventory grew as did his loyal following. He’s often helped out Boy Scouts needing to earn a bicycle repair badge and he’s spoken at events about the joys of bicycling.
“He provides a great service to our community,” remarked customer John Pendleton. “He had my 21-year-old bike up and pumping and like new in less than 24 hours. Dean has great service and he’s a great resource base.”
Over the decades, Lewis has seen bikes change from streamlined to fat-tire mountain bikes to low-down recumbent to hybrids of every kind.
Upright bikes, the kind not requiring bending over into the wind, remain the most popular, he says. Bicycles in his shop range in price from $400 to $4,000.
He’s also witnessed the declining popularity of bicycling. Adults are too busy, kids and teenagers, too lazy.
From 1988 to 1998, he sold about 300 new bikes every year. Now it’s more like 80 new bikes a year.
Long gone are the days when almost every kid on the block owned a bicycle and tooled around day and night, baseball glove in hand.
Technology is now tops, not two-wheeling.
“You can’t ride a bike with ear buds, looking at your iPhone and taking selfies,” Lewis says. “I don’t know. Maybe kids will start skateboarding again. I guess they could balance on a board and take selfies.”
Lewis remembers getting local bike enthusiasts organized back in 1983 under the name Whidbey Wheelers, a group that faded out.
Bibs with race numbers dangle high in his shop, evidence of his recreational racing days.
He rode in the annual Seattle-to-Portland ride eight times, a 210-mile ride that can be completed in one or two days.
“I’m a one-day rider,” he says. “You can do it with a lot of experience and a bad attitude.”
His time? “Twelve hour and 10 minutes is my fastest. And another year, I barely made it by the 8 p.m. cut-off.”
He’s also spun in the Skagit Classic and Tour de Whidbey, and “like any avid cyclist, I still get out when I can.”
Still, Lewis admits to spending way too much time indoors in his corner shop the past decade or so. Just recently he took on 21-year-old Ian Bernert to work a 250-hour internship through WorkSource.
“Learning how to repair bikes, I’m certainly doing that,” Bernert said. “But I’m also having a great time. Dean is always cracking me up.”
Joking aside, he said has no plans to ride away anytime soon and put the brakes on his shop.
“People have tried to buy me out several times or they were wanting me to open a business with them,” he says, putting the squeeze on his stringing machine as attends to a tennis racket.
“I’m not that money-chasing kind of guy. If that was my emphasis, I’d been gone a long time ago.”