By Mark Thomas
Theresa Van Ackeren moved to Lee’s Summit, Mo., from Omaha in 1989. She did not bring her bicycle along, she remembers with some regret.
Before that, she said, “I rode my bike a lot as a kid. I didn’t have a car in the first part of college, so I rode then.”
It was a family connection that put Van Ackeren back on two wheels. With a chuckle, she says, “My father was riding in the late ’90s. He rode mountain bikes in Shawnee Mission Park before there were trails. He got me back into riding ... very slowly.”
In early 2000, she bought a new bike for herself on a whim.
“My dad and I did 30 miles together on the Katy Trail,” she said, “and it almost killed me!”
But two years later, they completed the whole thing together – more than 235 miles.
“I was hooked,” she said.
Van Ackeren moved to the Brookside neighborhood in Kansas City, Mo., while working at DST as a division manager. In 2007, she realized that she needed to do something different. She didn’t know what.
“I took some time off and was riding bikes, so I decided to open a bike store. Everybody told me not to do it,” she says with a smile. She took the summer to ride and draft a business plan and opened the doors to Family Bicycles in March 2008.
“We did choose the name Family Bicycles as a subtle double entendre,” says Van Ackeren, whose shop was honored as the first certified lesbian-owned business in Kansas City. “We go out of our way to make everyone comfortable. If you don’t know a lot about bikes, we work hard not to intimidate.”
When asked about the challenges of the bicycle business, she said: “The reality of retail is that everybody wants the lowest price. But quality and customer service do matter to a certain segment, and that’s the challenge. Our niche is families. We cater to families with kids and people who are not necessarily cyclists. We also focus on bicycle commuters.”
Van Ackeren is a member of several advisory boards for transportation issues in the metro area.
“We’re trying to make it so you can bike and walk to the bus stops,” she said. “Mass transit in Kansas City is improving, but the bicycle can empower and reduce limitations for many neighborhoods. We’re also fortunate that Kansas City has lots of neighborhood access to multi-use trails.”
Family Bicycles itself is located on the Trolley Track Trail.
Van Ackeren feels it is critical to give back to the community. The store is involved with several fundraising events, including the AIDS Bicycle Cruise. This year, she hopes to help create more exciting themed rides.
She appreciates the marketing knowledge she has gained from her involvement with the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
“I love the monthly B2B meetings and the Business Equality Conference. However, we need to get more women involved! They’ve done a really nice job recently of reaching out and making the membership more diverse. Let’s do even more,” she said.
As for how she spends her time when she’s not riding or working? Van Ackeren says that politics and reading are her non-biking passions.