White’s Bikes & Outfitters

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

stephen_whiteNo moss grows under Stephen White, a high school teacher whose many side endeavors include woodworking, gardening, music, and running a Georgia shop called White’s Bikes & Outfitters.

It’s a challenge to choose which of Stephen White’s extracurricular activities to call “moonlighting.” By day, during the school year, White teaches woodworking and introduction to mechanics at Missiquois Valley Union High School in Swanton. By night (and summer break and weekends) he might be making Adirondack chairs or wooden spoons or cutting boards to sell at craft fairs, or tending his gardens — his kale took Best of Class at the Champlain Valley Expo.

But the job that best fits the definition of “moonlighting” is his bicycle sales and repair business, White’s Bikes & Outfitters, located on U.S. 7 in Georgia just south of Exit 18. Seeing the shop from the outside, one could easily assume it was White’s full-time endeavor. And indeed, in summer, he’s open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays noon to 4. When school’s in session, though, hours are pretty much by appointment.

The shop takes up half of a 40-by-60-foot building that White and his son, Matthew, erected in 2005 to house the bike shop and Kitchens By Design, a business operated by White’s wife, Becky, and their daughter, Alison.

It’s no overstatement to call White passionate about bikes. It started, he says, when he was 12 years old, one of seven siblings growing up in Westport, N.Y., and built his version of a Stingray from parts, using money he earned from mowing lawns.

He helped finance his college degree in industrial arts education from State University of New York at Oswego by working in a bike shop. After graduating in 1976, he found a job at Burlington High School, followed by work at Edmunds Junior High and Lyman C. Hunt Elementary.

He met Becky right after moving to Burlington. “She was working at a place called Tech Hi Fi,” he says. “I went in to buy a tape deck and had to order it.” The delivery was delayed, requiring multiple visits to check on it. “Finally, I said, ‘It still isn’t in; will you go out with me?’ She said, ‘Well, I’ll go out with you but I’m moving this weekend.’ So our first date was a move.”

In 1980, he and Becky bought property on Bovat Road in Georgia. White left teaching for construction, and they built their house with the help of friends. “My dad had quite a bit of acreage over in the Adirondacks and donated the logs we had cut into lumber and shipped over. We would get people together mainly on weekends; I’d furnish food, and some beverages at the end of the day.”

White continued in the construction business for 11 years before returning to education. In 1993, he started a bicycle shop in the basement of their home, “doing pretty much just repairs, selling a few products,” he says.

The business grew, and in 1997, he and Becky bought a ranch house with an attached garage on U.S. 7, which they remodeled and turned into a rental property. The garage became a bike shop with frontage on a main road, he says. “That year sales really shot up.”

In 2005, the Whites bought an additional half acre on Route 7 and designed and built the current retail space. Sales again jumped and continue to grow, averaging $150,000 a year. The shop carries bicycles from several manufacturers, but the main line is Fuji. White also stocks sports accessories and clothing and a few of his hand-crafted wooden items.

Six months ago, he and three friends began playing guitars and singing once a week, planning to eventually play at a coffee shop or flea market, he says. “We’ve learned maybe 30, 40 songs so far.”

One of those musicians is Dave Vallette, who owns Fairfax company PeakSource Analytical. Vallette has known White over 30 years. “I used to kid that some people, it seems like God gave them 30 hours in a day and the rest of us only got 24,” he says. “And despite doing all these things, Steve’s one of the calmest and most easy going people I’ve ever met.”

White runs three to four miles a week with a group of friends and races bikes on Saturday nights at Catamount Outdoor Center in Williston. He sponsors mountain bike races at Catamount and conducts bicycle clinics for Boy Scouts. He’s participated in the MS fundraiser bike tour in Rhode Island, and in 2003, he competed in the Cyclocross National Championships in Portland, Ore.

The plan, says White with a laugh, is to wrap up his teaching career in a couple of years “and produce things that are a little more tangible, so at the end of the day I can look and see whether I’ve made any progress.” •