As I walk along the streets of Jackson Heights, I can see a variety of stores all connected on a single block. What appears to be a bustling main street of stores is actually composed of many store owners working their way to pay rent and maintain their business in the current day. Many people go to this area for shopping and exploring the changes that have happened over the past few years, but while the major changes in business are obvious, something that people usually pay less attention to is the ethnic change in the neighborhood and the struggle that store owners go through just to keep their businesses running. What was once a scarce number of mainly Irish and American stores, residential buildings, and trees have given way to Mexican, French, Korean, Chinese, and Middle-Eastern shops and train tracks.

Jackson Heights: From Past to Present

The history of Jackson Heights is not a stagnant one. Everything looks so busy, nowadays, and so looking at Jackson Heights today, one could scarcely imagine what it had looked like back then. Contrary to today, Jackson Heights in the 1920s was a quiet, suburban neighborhood for the middle class and upper class. It was a place people moved to for a nice place that was also close enough to the city, and unlike today’s version of it,  it was an open space, with plenty of trees and plants. This gave Jackson Heights a distinctly suburban feel, despite being so close to the city. The population was sparse, but when World War 2 ended, Jackson Heights faced startling changes.

First the population density increased, from under 10,000 per square mile to approximately 36,000 per square mile in 1940. And then in 1950, the population density doubled to 72,000 per square mile, which was probably due to the economic boom present after World War 2. And it was at this point when Jackson Height faced a change in its racial identity, mainly its lack thereof. Before the 1980s the area was primarily Caucasian with them making up 99% of the population, but in the 1980s that percentage was halved down to 47%. Of course, this coincided with the moving in of many ethnic groups which transformed the culture of Jackson Heights into something far more diverse.


1940s Population

The massive increase in population coupled with the increase in diversity transformed Jackson Heights into an urban neighborhood. With such a high population, it was inevitable that the area would become an economic hub with more shops and customers. And with the many ethnic groups present, the culture of Jackson Heights became diverse as new ideas spread and respective cultures meshed together. Regardless of your overall opinion of Jackson Heights, it certainly has transformed over the years.

If you had lived in the neighborhood in the 40s or 50s and then suddenly come back to the present, you probably wouldn’t have recognized the place at all due to the eclectic influx of immigrants and the new stores that have opened up because of them. Jackson Heights had once been a quiet, suburban area where only a few stores were present. It was nothing like the crowded, busy streets that are present nowadays. The first thing you’d notice was how diverse the neighborhood compared to back then is. Back then there would’ve been a single definitive culture the area, but now? Now, there are so many different cultures meshed together that the identity of the area might as well be a melting pot. Back in the 40s and 50s the main population of the area were Irish and Italian, but in the decades following, foreigners from all sorts of backgrounds began moving in and displacing the original people, bringing along with them their own culture as well as their specialties, but this change didn’t come out of nowhere either. Since Jackson Heights was so close to the airport and city, it was only natural that people from other countries would want to move to here.

In the 1940s to 1950s, many of the residents in the area lived in one-family houses and the majority of the stores were run by the local residents. However, now, the old ragtag, mom and pops stores and small apartment buildings of the past have been refurbished or replaced with bigger buildings and a variety of stores and restaurants run by people of different cultures, reminiscent of the ones back in their homeland. The once-quiet streets have become bustling attraction center due to the increased number of people who have moved in and the myriad of stores and commercial buildings that have been popping up.

Bike Rack


What does this influx of people and shift in demographic mean for store owners in the area? Well, for the head owner of Bill’s Cyclery, Bill, one of the many stores situated on the long block, it means more types of people pass by and visit the store, but it doesn’t necessarily mean more business. The internet made business more difficult for them because of the lowered prices that the internet offered, so Bill’s Cyclery had to find ways to adapt to the changes and maintain their business instead of succumb to the negative changes. They’ve changed their prices to attract more customers and added more services to compete with the market as well as advertised through the Yellow Pages and their Instagram account, which they created to keep up with the trend. They advertise on their website their policy to match the price of services that customers find on the internet, so customers have more of an incentive to go to the store and talk to real people about their purchases before they make them instead of order directly from online. This internet presence has helped them reach out to more people, and the addition of bicycle lanes in the area also has helped to encourage people to buy bikes.


Bill's Family
“The addition of bike lanes in certain parts of Manhattan have encouraged people to ride bikes more often instead of use cars because now people feel safer biking on the road. This has helped us attract to our store more customers who enjoy riding.” Bill, the store owner

People who buy bike parts from online or second-hand bikes from sellers can bring their bikes over to Bill’s Cyclery to have them assembled. Bill’s Cyclery also does adjustments and repairs for bikes as well as have somebody from outside do custom painting for the bike frames.

Back in 1939, which was when William Links had first established the store, things were different from how they are now. Back then, it was just selling bikes and doing basic repairs, nothing as complicated as things are now. The first store was opened around the corner of 63rd street but was soon moved to 64th street to attract more business. After a few years of moderate success, the bike shop moved to its current location, 63-24 Roosevelt Ave, in 1970, to reach out to more people. Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard had been major shopping streets during the 1940s and had continued to expand, so moving the bike shop to this location made sense in terms of business. The shop was located on a busy avenue, so they were able to attract new potential customers more easily. At the time, bikes were known as the means of transportation for people of modest resources, and the main demographics that patronized the shop were working class. People would go use bikes to travel wherever they needed to go, because bikes were more affordable and more versatile than cars.

Bike Counter

If you walk inside the store, the first noticeable thing that you’ll see when you enter may be the long glass counter on the left with seats, brakes, toolkits, and a variety of bike materials inside of it. Behind the counter are miscellaneous add-on pieces, lights, gloves, and tools for taking apart and repairing bikes hanging on the striped board sticking on the wall, and above the striped bored are different sized wheels all hanging on display. In the back of the store are bottles of spray paint and wrenches for adjusting and recoloring dulled bikes parts. Somebody usually is at work taking apart and fixing the spokes on bike wheels. On the right side of the store are two long racks with many different bikes, ranging from small children’s bikes and city bikes to recreational mountain bikes and BMXs.

The owner, Bill, comes out to meet us, his hands dusty from repairs and his pants stained from dirt and oil. He’s been living in the area and taking care of the store from over 27 years. He lives nearby, so the commute from his home to the store isn’t far, but Bill says that despite having walked this way for many years he has not become bored of it. “There are always many different sights to admire and many new things to see, every day.” He walks around the store and points out the different areas that he and his employees work at, describing each in detail and talking about the progress that he has made since he had first taken over the business. He had grown up in a bike family and had worked with his dad with repairing bikes and with his mom at the counter, talking to people. After several years of helping out and developing good skills, he decided to take over the business and allow his parents to retire.

“Back in the day, Irish, Italian, second-generation Americans the usual customers, but now that South Americans, Hispanics, Eastern Asians, Indians, and other ethnicities have entered the area, the demographic is much more varied”, Bill explained. “This means that we have a lot of different types of people visiting the bike shop and helping us spread our name out there if they like what we’ve got to offer. I personally believe that every single person who comes in to purchase a bike, to get a repair, make an adjustment, etc., is more than satisfied with our services. We do everything to the best of our ability.”

He gestured at some people who were standing near the bike rack.


“These kids haved lived in this neighbourhood for almost 10 years now”, he says. “They come in almost every week to check out what’s new, to make some adjustments, or just to have a friendly conversation. They’ve also introduced to us friends and family members who, in turn, have also helped us get the word out.”

Hanging Tires

Bill explains that keeping business going isn’t always easy. “People can now easily order things from online, for lower prices, so business for us isn’t easy. We’ve done our best with our additional services and our advertisements, but even though a lot of people know who we are, we must do what we can to keep our store running. We’ve created an Instagram page, a website, and talked to people who are interested in bikes so that they can spread the word about us. We’ve even offered to do free repairs on bikes that new customers buy from us, so that people have more incentive to buy bikes from us instead of from online. Offering these services that we once would have charged for is one of the only methods for keeping us at the forefront of the bicycle market.”

Many people who don’t purchase their bikes from Bill’s Cyclery still bring their bikes to the store for repairs, tune-ups, and adjustments because of they are aware of good service offered by the store. About 60% of the business comes from repairs of bikes, wheelchairs, scooters, and battery-operated motorbikes, with the remaining 40% coming from the selling of bikes. Customers who go in to find out why their bikes are making unusual noises or not working as well as they should have are greeted by a group of professionals who are adroit at the craft and dedicated to helping the customers out, and many of these customers return and bring along the way with them their friends and relatives, helping the place stay alive. “We’re always good to the customers so they’re good to us”, Bill says. “They bring for us business. We believe that good treatment and loyalty go hand-in-hand.”

“A lot of our customers live far away”, says Bill. “A lot of people make their way from Brooklyn, Greenpoint, and lower Manhattan to visit our store. Some people even make the journey from Long Island to Jackson Heights just to purchase our bikes and services! They’re loyal to us. If it weren’t for them we probably wouldn’t have as much business as we have now.”

The shop is located near two 7 train station stops as well as the E, F, M, and R train stops, which, combined with the many bus stops in the area, allow many people to pass by the store on their daily commute.

“A lot of people pass by our shop since it’s so close to the train station stops, but few stop to look for more than a few seconds, and even fewer take the time to walk in and look. However, the ones who do come in to look usually end up being loyal customers.”

After taking an extensive tour of the bike shop and acquiring a better understanding of what he does, I realized that maintaining this bike shop was harder than I had thought. The work that goes on behind the scenes let me know that what seemed like an easy-going business took a lot of effort, but the effort pays off. The shop has adapted to modern times and currently does well.


US Demography 1790 to Present. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2017, from

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