When you walk into Family Bicycles, one of the first things you notice how open and bright it is. Windows overlooking 75th Street and Wornall Road line the east side of the store, and the sun streams through, giving the bikes a twinkle of possibility and adventure.
Theresa Van Ackeren, the shop’s managing director, is happy to help you find the perfect bike to indulge that need to explore. There’s no doubt she understands how it feels to try something new. In 2007, she quit her corporate job and opened up Family Bicycles in Waldo. So what prompted this bold decision?
She grew up riding her bike and delivering newspapers in her hometown of Omaha, Neb. But as time went by, cycling became less central in her life. Ten years ago, when Van Ackeren found herself sedentary after a knee surgery, she knew she needed to make a change. She decided in 2006 to take a ride on the Katy Trail, an east-west rail-trail conversion that covers most of the mid-section of Missouri, with her father and his partner. It was a transformative experience, and cycling began to take on a whole new feeling of freedom.
After returning home, Van Ackeren discovered a gap in the local cycling business world: Kansas City needed a touring bike shop that catered to non-racing cyclists, families, and children. “I essentially figured it all out on my bike,” she said.
Fast-forward to today, and she’s effectively filled that gap. Quality touring bikes, service and maintenance, and good advice are all available at Family Bicycles. Van Ackeren cites many reasons that bicycles are a great way to get around — exercise, transportation costs, ecological responsibility. But most of all, she says “It’s a good time!”
Her face lights up as she talks about cycling, and her enthusiasm is infectious.
She says Waldo was the perfect place to open her shop. That’s not just lip service — she hosts bike rides every Monday during riding season and holds movie nights in the store with drinks and popcorn. She’s also on the board of directors for the Waldo Business Association, saying, “They’re a good group — we’re in it together.”
And when you see the black bike racks recently installed in the Waldo area, you’re seeing another sign of Van Ackeren’s impact in the community — she selected them herself.
She speaks highly of her experience with the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce as well. She’s participated in Mastermind sessions and networking B2Bs.
One of the best pieces of advice she’s ever received? “My mother always told me you can do anything you want to do.” And that’s exactly what she’s done, both at work and outside of it.
Van Ackeren came out later in life, and she’s proud to have a business that’s NGLCC-certified. She uses specialized marketing to reach the LGBT community, participates in Pride events, and displays a nostalgic, rainbow-themed children’s bike in her entryway. But she says that people don’t always realize the store is so equality-minded.
“Especially when we first opened, people assumed we were affiliated with Focus on the Family!” she said. “We still get some confused looks now and then.”
Yet there’s no doubt that Van Ackeren is about inclusivity. You can feel the passion she has for bringing people and families together over a good bike ride, and everyone is invited to join the fun. It’s hard not to want to go along when she smiles widely and says, “Come ride your bikes with us!” If her happiness is any indication, we could all benefit from spending a little time figuring things out on our bikes.
Andrea Martin is a consulting writer for the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MAGLCC), an organization that advocates, promotes and facilitates the success of the LGBT business community and their allies.