Sault Ste. Marie outdoor recreation enthusiasts Levi and Rachel Cron own and operate Fox Hole Bike and Ski Shop inside of Bird's Eye Outfitters, selling and repairing major ski, bicycle, snowboard, and snowshoe brands.
Children Dirk, 11, and Clive, 8, often help out at the family business, careful not to exclude little brother Neil, 5, who already knows his bicycles. In no time at all, Lochlan, 1, will, undoubtedly, enter into the mix and learn everything there is to know about outdoor recreation equipment from his big brothers.
"I wanted to be my authentic self and bring out my creative, free spirit," said Cron.
This meant incorporating family into a fun hobby they could enjoy together year-round, both indoors and out.
"I earned my bike shop certificate last November," Cron said. "I have slowly been chipping away at it. Initially, I was self-taught. I went through a bike shop in Burton to get certified by the Park Tool School."
Ironically, Cron never raced bicycles professionally. Biking was not something he really got into until the past few years.
"I don't come from the professional side of this," he said. "I was given a bike as an adult. My great-uncle gave me his 1989 Trek 1100. I have always been handy and have done my own repairs. I wasn't 100 per cent sure I'd get into racing. I wanted to work on people's bikes, skis and snowboards doing repair and sales."
So, Cron fixed up his first '90s Vintage GT Performer BMX Bike, learning there was a huge market out there for collector bikes.
"The parts cost about as much as the bike did brand new back in the day," he said, finding himself at Pro Sports, owned and operated by the late Dave Bourgeault. "I had never been to Dave's shop, and would just order parts on eBay. Then, I ran into problems with BMX costs. There is a rare premium on used parts in that market. A coworker told me to check with Dave at Pro Sports in Sault Ste. Marie. We started talking, and I showed him there was a market for bike restoration oup here. I kept going in for parts, and got to know him well."
The outdoor sports and recreational business boomed during the COVID pandemic. The Bridge Michigan website referenced a report by U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), which stated that the state's outdoor recreation economy grew by 15.4 percent in 2021, contributing approximately $10.8 billion and 109,595 jobs to the state's economy.
"The recreation industry exploded, and Dave's shop was open," Cron said. "We eventually got to be friends. If I brought my kids with me, he'd stop everything. He always had tootsie rolls for them."
Bourgeault was well-known in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, and dearly missed by many. His complete obituary can be found on the CS Mulder Funeral Home and Cremation Services website.
Cron had lost a friend while falling in love with the bike culture. It suddenly had become more than a just hobby.
"I was out of town when he passed away," said Cron. "My wife had called. She saw the for sale sign outside of his shop. I just assumed they were selling because he didn't have a mechanic. I was going to fast-track my education to help him keep it open. The family wanted to sell after his death. So, I approached the family about buying tools."
Cardinal Plumbing and Heating now owns the old Pro Sports building on 2621 Ashmun Street.
"I just bought the mechanic shop," Cron said. "We launched our logo last year."
The Crons just needed a business location.
"I've known Ken Hopper since the summer of 2016 when I worked for Sault Tribe," Cron said. "We spent time hiking together in Canada. His business, Bird's Eye, was looking for hiking guides. I had the qualifications. My wife and I got to be friends with Ken and Wilda."
Cron moved his family repair shop into Bird's Eye Outfitters. He is also a board member of the Hopper's OUT House Consortium local nonprofit business, committed to developing, maintaining, and promoting the area's trails.
Pepsi Co. Sales Representative Kelsey Wagner of Wisc. walked through the doors just last week in a real bind. Wagner often takes his bicycle on long trips just for something to do. Once he got to the Sault, his wheels began to wobble.
"He probably hit one of our large potholes in town," Cron said. "It is a reoccurring theme here. There's a large percentage of people in the Sault who ride bikes as their primary means of transportation. People have to get to and from work. They need groceries. It's just one of those things... how do we help people with mobility? Foxhole helps where we can."
Bike trails and routes in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. can be found on the OUT House Consortium website. Fox Hole Bike and Ski Shop inside of Bird's Eye Outfitters is located at 107 E Portage Ave, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783. Call Fox Hole Bike and Ski Shop at 906-632-8161 to learn more.