ATLANTIC — He’s probably the most positive person you’ll meet. Frank Mitchell, owner of The Bicycle Store in Atlantic, believes keeping a positive attitude is a good thing, because it spreads.
Frank has been a part of downtown Atlantic since 1973 — almost 47 years starting with Western Auto and later The Bicycle Store — and says being positive is a good thing. “It pays off, and you are happier,” he said.
He remembered back when he served in the military, something a drill sergeant said, when talking to the young men he worked with about the young women they were interested in. “(He said) ‘these girls don’t look at your hair, they look at your billfold.’”
Frank said he didn’t completely believe that. “Maybe the people he had bumped into in life, but it seems to me I’ve run into the best people. And you get it from that,” from interacting with those people.
It comes down to the chicken and the egg question — which comes first — does being positive affect those around you, or are you more positive because you are around positive people? Frank said looking back, “I’ve met some of the nicest people at the roller skating rink.”
“Atlantic is excellent,” he said, adding the community looks out for people. “Over the last few years, I’ve probably noticed it more, for different reasons, maybe my eyes are opened up more, but maybe they’ve just always been that way,” he said.
For example, he said, “A number of people stop in here regularly, just to talk. Yesterday I had two people in.” They were just stopping to chat, “especially the last couple years.”
He says today if he goes out to clear off the sidewalk, his neighbors downtown are quick to help. He’s gone out to clear off the sidewalk, “and the first thing I know, the Cappel boys were yelling at me to get back inside,” he said. Others have come out to help him.
“I’m sure they are watching out for each other, but it seems to me that they are watching out for me, more,” he said.
Frank not only sells bicycles — for many years he’s been riding his bike to work. “I used to bike to work all the time,” he said, “but I haven’t since October.” He explained he had to stop because of a medical condition. His doctor also told him to lean on his cane or walker more, but he’s been trying to stay active, and hopes to get back to riding to work soon.
He just likes to ride a bike, and he said it made sense for him going to work. “I can get here quicker, I don’t have a parking problem, and when it’s cold out, the seat is warm,” he said.
He put an electric motor on his bike’s front tire, “and going back home last year I used it along Maple or Fifth Street.”
He said while he hadn’t been biking to and from work since October, “I have to try one of these days, I’m sure I can do it.”
He does want to stay active. “Since I’ve been in town, I’ve become acquainted with a lot of people who have retired. I’ve noticed a number of them went home and sat around and did nothing, for a short period of time, and then they were resting at Rolands, or some other place like that,” he said. “So now my main objective is to keep active.”
He has found a creative way to get in a little exercise. He’s got a red three wheeled bike and he’s been known to get on and ride it in the store.
“This one is my favorite bike now,” he said, “People walk by the front (of the store) and they see me riding it around in here.”
“I can get some exercise, and that’s what I need, that’s one of the things the doctor said.”
He said while the three wheeler was bigger than a standard two wheeled bike, he could make it down around his work bench, a big empty box he fixes bikes on, and down to the front of the building. “It’s good for these old legs,” he said.
He started riding bikes when he was about a teen. “The first bicycle I owned, I think I was probably 14. Back in those days, families couldn’t afford bicycles, but I was working at a chicken hatchery about a mile and a half from home.” One day his boss’ wife showed up with a used bicycle, and he was able to buy it for $2. New bikes at the time were going for about $20 he said. “I rode that one for years,” he said.
He and his wife Susan, who passed away in August 2018, ran the business on the corner of Chestnut and Second Street since 1973. It started out as a Western Auto, selling car parts, but Frank said they also had bike parts. “Probably 35 or 40 percent of sales was in bicycles and parts,” he said, and when Western Auto wanted to stop selling parts, the store moved to bikes, bike parts, repair and accessories.
He also sells used bicycles. People will bring them to him to repair and resell, and the profits go toward the Cass County Relay for Life.
“The bulk of what they give me, they are rideable,” he said, and just need a little work. Over the years he’s accumulated extra parts, when customers want to change to something new, “and those (parts) still have miles in them,” he said. The bikes that can’t be repaired, go to the junk dealers to be recycled.
Today he said bike sales are still big, but he’s seen a lot of change in bicycles over the years. “I am finding some of the models I have are not as popular as new models coming out,” he said. “But I’m not going to change, when you get to my age, you know what’s going to happen.”
Frank admits he’s been thinking of retiring for a little while now, “I think there is a light down the street,” he said.
“It’s not in concrete, but I think 2020 might pretty much be it, that’s my thought.”
He said he didn’t want to broadcast it, but he’s not replacing any bikes he sells now, or other merchandise. If he doesn’t have something a customer needs — he does have someone nearby to direct them to: Steve Andersen of The Bike Farm, on Olive Street just north of town.
Frank has known Andersen a long time, and when it comes to helping people with bikes, “he’s always been super about it.”
Through the years, Frank said, bikes have changed and become more specialized. “When I grew up you just grabbed a bicycle and rode it,” he said.
Today, Frank says when it comes to those newer, more specialized bikes, “I’m sure my friend Steve has more experience. He and I talk, I have great respect for him, in fact I’ve sent him a customer here and there.”
When he’s not working, he can keep busy just keeping up with family.
He and his wife had five children; Frank now has 11 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. While none live in town, they aren’t far — he has two in Elliott, he said, one in Exira, a son in Olathe, Kan., and “the rest are in Council Bluffs or Omaha.”
And he doesn’t know if keeping busy and staying positive contributed to his getting to be 96 years old.
“I don’t know, but I’m here,” he said. It was a question, though, that he’s asked himself. “I’ve wondered and wondered and wondered.”
“I came out of a large family and I was about in the middle of the group, and I’m the only one left now,” he said.
He just knows that staying positive helps.
“Life is wonderful,” he said.