Plenty has changed in Whitefish over the last 40 years, as the town has transformed from a small mountain town to a year-round resort destination.
But there are aspects of the community that remain constant, regardless of how the rest evolves. One of those unchanging characteristics is that no matter how it grows or doesn’t, people will come to Whitefish, see the mountains and the lake and the freedom therein, and they will want to explore.
And when those adventures include a bicycle, explorers for the last 36 years have likely come to know another Whitefish constant: Glacier Cyclery and Nordic, owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Ron and Jan Brunk.
In the minds of the Brunks, the best way to keep their tradition of providing cycling advice and products to the adventurous hearts of the valley is to put the business in the hands of people who love it as much as they do.
The Brunks announced this month that they’ve added three new minority owners to Glacier Cyclery and Nordic — longtime employees Michael Meador, Tyler Tourville, and Vanessa Gailey. The Brunks will remain majority owners in the business, but will slowly transition out of that, and eventually the minority owners will buy them out.
“We’ve done it for a long time, 36 years,” Ron Brunk said in an interview last week before heading off for a weekend of skiing in Essex. “It’s been fun, it’s been a great ride and we still enjoy it, but it’s time for some younger people to step in and make the decisions and pick the product and kind of take the reins.”
When it came time to think about the future of the shop, and the couple’s eventual retirement, Meador, Tourville, and Gailey were immediate choices.
“Those people, they have taken ownership all along insofar as handling things responsibly and acting in the best interest of our customers and treating it like their own business,” Jan Brunk said.
“You know when you’ve birthed a business and babied it along and brought it into the mature business that it is now, and then just to think of quitting, that takes some adjustment,” she continued. “But you know what? I think the transition is going to be easier than some people would think because of Tyler and Mike and Vanessa.”
The couple has seen plenty of trends in equipment and general cycling sports in their time at the helm. When Glacier Cyclery opened in 1982, mountain bikes weren’t even a blip on the radar, Ron Brunk said.
“We didn’t sell mountain bikes,” he said. “I think maybe we sold one or two our first year in business.”
Their business was largely a repair shop, and they special-ordered bikes, usually of the road variety. By the second year in business, though, the trend of mountain bikes seemed to be here to stay.
“When we started, mountain bikes were just coming out,” Jan Brunk said. “That was huge — that’s what carried us and propelled us forward. I think what we’ve seen from that point, which was the early 80s until now, is just the continuing popularity of mountain bikes.”
Mountain biking in Whitefish has reached a new gear, with the Whitefish Trail system and Whitefish Mountain Resort offering new tracks and plenty of downhill for adrenaline junkies on two wheels.
The Brunks have loved watching the trails grow to include Rails to Trails in Kalispell and Foys to Blacktail, and they appreciate folks wanting to be able to ride out from their homes and access wild trails.
Meador, one of the new minority owners, will celebrate his 20th year working at the shop in July. He said wandering into the shop and becoming a part of it all has been one of the joys of his life.
“I really love it. I love working there. I feel so fortunate to be in a profession I still love after doing it for 30 years and to have happened into Glacier Cyclery when I did,” he said. “I feel honored to carry on what Ron and Jan have built. I feel honored to be part of it.”
Gailey said she felt a similar pride when she became a minority owner.
“They’ve been building this shop as a husband-and-wife team for 36 years. It’s their baby; it’s their passion. We don’t take this lightly,” Gailey said. “I’m very excited and very flattered. I see this shop is a community institution in addition to being a bike shop. Locals have been coming here for 36 years. It’s a blast.”
The Brunks will stay involved in the shop until they transition to fully retired, but they’re already tasting a bit of that retirement freedom as they plan longer, more-involved bicycle trips, like the one they have coming up in August when they plan to take six weeks to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route to Mexico.
Regardless of who holds the most shares, locals and visitors will meet a friendly face at the shop, which the Brunks said is key. They also said they owe so much to the valley’s residents who have supported them for nearly four decades.
“We have the greater Flathead Valley to thank for being loyal, loyal supporters through the years,” Jan Brunk said. “And as Whitefish has become busier in the summer with tourists, it takes effort to get to Glacier Cyclery and we so appreciate our local customer base and what they’ve meant to us over the years.”
“Obviously Whitefish has changed a whole bunch in 30-some years of business, but we’re still a community,” Ron Brunk said. “That’s what I think is the beautiful thing.”
For more information on Glacier Cyclery and Nordic, visit www.glaciercyclery.com.