February 21, 2024

With New Owners, Kopp’s Cycle Prepares For Next Chapter in Its 133-Year History

TRADITION AND TRANSFORMATION: Kopp’s Cycle, in Princeton since 1891 and on Spring Street since 1989, has been bought by Princeton Property Partners, which is looking for partners and planning to reignite the business while preserving Kopp’s proud tradition.

By Donald Gilpin

Kopp’s Cycle on Spring Street, the oldest continually running bike store in the country, has been bought by Princeton Property Partners (PPP). They are looking forward to a reopening this spring in time for the cycling season.

PPP has purchased the business and the property, and as it looks for possible partners in the enterprise, it will be making a few changes in carrying on the proud Kopp’s tradition that dates back to 1891.

“What we’re doing is looking to find the best way to launch it into its next century,” said Andrew Capone, a consultant working with PPP on the project. ”We are aware of the history and the good will of the business and how meaningful it is to the community.” He noted that the store has been shut down since December 1, but bike repair work has continued.

Charlie Kuhn, the owner of the business, which his father Fred (Fritz) Kuhn, a cycling coach at the national and Olympic levels, purchased from the Kopp family (the original owners) in 1948, declined to be interviewed, but noted in an email that he had to retire for health reasons. “PPP has been a godsend, and they are planning on another 100 years for Kopp’s,” he said.

“Charlie and the family decided it was time to sell the property and the business,” Capone confirmed, adding that the business and the building could change, but PPP is looking to carry on the Kopp’s presence in Princeton.

“There are some details to be worked out regarding the transfer and the sale of the property, but our goal is to find a way to bring in any partners and relaunch the business in a way that matches up to the realities of the 21st century bicycle marketplace,” said Capone. “We’re eager to do that.”

Before settling into its present Spring Street location in 1989, Kopp’s had several different homes in Princeton: on Nassau Street, Chambers Street, John Street, and then Witherspoon Street.

In a 2006 Town Topics interview Kuhn noted that in 1995 he received an award named for his father, the Fritz Kuhn Medal, from Britain’s Cycle Engineers Institute, of which he had been elected an honorary member in 1994.

Brought up working in the bike store with his father, Kuhn claimed that he sold his first bike in 1963 when he was 5 years old. “My father and Dick Swann pioneered the import of Italian racing bicycles and parts in 1960 and launched Kopp’s to be the hub of eastern U.S. bicycle racing until the late 1970s,” Kuhn wrote on the store’s website.

“Some of my favorite memories of the shop are when people have stopped by to get a hard to find part or just to check in,” he continued. “Albert Einstein to Brooke Shields are just another day at the store.”

Capone said that in the next month there’s likely to be some activity in the building preparing for a sale of bicycles and equipment. “There’s probably another 30 to 60 days before you see a whole lot of change or activity,” he said, “but we’re going to be working behind the scenes and ensuring that Kopp’s lives on, and we’re also looking at potential partners who might come in and buy the business.”

He continued, “We need to make some changes internally on the sales floor. It needs to be cleaned up a bit to make it more attractive to incoming customers.” He added that some of the bicycles and parts might be moved temporarily to other PPP properties in Princeton while shelving and flooring are reinstalled.

He said that they definitely want to be selling bicycles by spring. “There are certain windows for the bicycle business, and one is spring,” he pointed out. “That’s when people all of a sudden are back on their bikes. They get their bikes out of their garages and realize that they need repairs.”

Capone noted that the other window for Kopp’s is the fall, aligning with Princeton University’s academic calendar. When all the students are coming in to start at Princeton, this business will sell scores of bikes each fall, and we want to make sure that there’s a functioning, ready-to-go-to-market business for that time as well,” he said.

There are still many question marks concerning the shape that the new Kopp’s will take and who might be prospective partners, Capone noted. Many details and “a good bit of behind-the-scenes work” will be going on that might not be evident to passers-by. He went on to discuss the possibility of a move to another retail space in Princeton.

“The bike shop is destined to stay in Princeton, and obviously in the near term it will be in that space,” he said, “but we don’t know what a prospective partner or buyer might do with it. It’s a small space and an older space, and PPP does own other properties in downtown Princeton.”

One potential future partner for Kopp’s who would lead the business into new territory is Pedego Princeton, an electric bikes store currently located on Wiggins Street. Pedego owner Wendy Reilley has expressed interest in the Kopp’s business and is hopeful that the two enterprises can forge a partnership.

Capone insists that it’s too early to report any agreements, but PPP is not ruling out collaborations with any bike sellers in the state. “Kopp’s does not currently sell electric bikes, but that does not mean that a future owner of Kopp’s might not have both types of bikes in their inventory for two distinct consumer groups,” he said. “They’re complementary and quite often families have both in their garages. They’re both very good businesses, complementary businesses.”

PPP is eager to move ahead in shaping the future of Kopp’s, and Capone said that it won’t be long until that future is determined. “You’ll soon see lights on inside that building and bicycles available to sell,” he said, emphasizing the rich history of the business and its propitious location in “one of the most wonderful thriving towns in America with a great consumer population and customer history.”

He added, “We don’t know what the next version of Kopp’s is going to be at this point, but this is a valuable business and a valuable location with important meaning to the community.”