washingtonpost.com
Making It
An audio engineer and mother of two cycles out of one career and into another

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, July 15, 2007

Silver Cycles owner Linda Mack has a great commute: She bikes to work. "That was part of my master plan," she says. After almost a decade of juggling single motherhood and an audio engineering job at National Public Radio that had constantly changing hours, Linda is relishing the compactness and consistency of her new life, where her store, her house and her children's school are near one another in Silver Spring.

When Linda, 53, adopted her first daughter from Russia in 1999, she started thinking about a career change (her second daughter came in 2003). She had some financial resources, including a six-figure settlement from a class-action suit. And she had a passion: 25 years of bike racing. "I'm not saying that I'm good at it, but I loved it," she says. Linda took some online business courses, helped a friend buy a bike shop in College Park and realized that retail could be very satisfying because "You're rewarded by the job that you do."

Scouting properties in Silver Spring, Linda found a space that was near the Beltway, accessible to several bike paths and doors away from a popular bakery. In August 2004, she and minority partner Baird Webel opened Silver Cycles.

The staff prides itself on its service and places great importance on fitting people with the right bike, Linda says. "We're kind of populist. I think there's a perfect bike for everybody, and it's not necessarily the newest technology and the coolest colors."

Linda continued working at NPR and didn't draw a paycheck from Silver Cycles for 2 1/2 years; all the money went back into the store. But then, business started booming; sales last spring were 38 percent higher than the previous year's. On March 31, Linda left NPR to devote herself to the store full time. She's been working 50 to 60 hours a week, and it's hard to get away for a vacation, but "no one ever calls me at 1 in the morning to go do a breaking news story," she says. And her daughters, Svetlana, 8, and Anastasiya, 9, are much happier, Linda says. "They see me a lot more; they don't have to go to day care . . . I walk them to the bus every day."

The girls, who "think it's cool to have a mom who owns a bike shop," sometimes go to the store after school and on Saturdays and like to help, Linda says. They move the bikes in and out, take out the trash and put labels on merchandise. And Linda's friends often "come to the shop and sweep them away" for play dates, she says. Her friends' support has been key, she adds. "You can't do it by yourself."

While her second career is going well, Linda faces challenges: staff turnover, cramped quarters and a business growing almost faster than she can keep up with it. "My biggest surprise is that success costs so much," Linda says. She is trying to find more sales help and warehouse space for storing merchandise off-site.

"My plan is to grow the business to the point . . . where I only work 40 hours a week," she says. "I want to enjoy my children and be part of their lives, and I want the business to succeed."

Has your hobby inspired a profitable business? E-mail changb@washpost.com.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company