WESTPORT, Conn. -- It took a cancer diagnosis to get Tracy Yost doing what she loves.
The Westport resident, who grew up in Carmel, N.Y ,and previously worked as a fitness director while raising her three kids, said she had gone through life with a question her dad had instilled in her: What are you gong to do that makes you happy and how are you going to serve people?
It was while undergoing treatment for breast cancer that she came up with the answer, writing her business plan during six tiring weeks of radiation. The result: Westport Bike Rentals , a business that channeled the spirit of living in Santa Cruz, Calif., where she and her family had recently relocated from.
"It had always been one of my pipe dreams to start a retreat center and help people with their chaotic lives,' said Yost. "Starting a bike rental business, especially after calling around and finding out Westport didn't have one, didn't seem like that much of a stretch."
And so, with help from SCORE , a business mentoring service in Norwalk, she was -- pardon the pun -- on track.
The business officially launched May 1 though Yost said it rained so much in May she feels like she really started in June.
A few months into the business, she's already known around town as "The Bike Lady" -- as much for her smile and enthusiasm (and big bike rack) -- as she is about encouraging people to slow down and enjoy life.
Her online business -- brick and mortar was too expensive as was the insurance for adding a trailer to the van, she said -- has clients ordering what they need and Yost personally delivering them. Her typical rental includes dropping bikes at a "bike and ride" location or bringing them to a person's home. In addition, she offers recommended routes -- along with restaurant pit stops and even special deals (i.e. a free pretzel at Rothbard Ale & Lager with your bike rental) -- though she's happy to customize a plan for any client.
Originally, Yost thought her clientele would be those from the area whose bikes had collected dust once the kids got older but she's found she's catering more to out-of-towners like those from NYC or Norwalk and Fairfield who visit Westport for the day.
She's still, however, hoping to convince Westporters to come out and enjoy their hometown, seen through two wheels instead of four.
Fall, Yost stressed, is a perfect time. This being her first season, she's not sure how long she'll remain open -- though being a one-woman band she's happy to provide bikes to folks as long as they want them.
Her ultimate goal, she said, is to become a Westport institution. She'd also love to partner with three or four local businesses to market and sell the "perfect Westport day." She did a "Pedal, Picnic and Paddle" day in conjunction with Saugatuck businesses: Downunder, Garelick & Herb, & Flesher’s CraftKitchen and she hopes to repeat that -and grow it -- next spring/summer.
Yost was also featured on Norwalk-based HooplaHa's Only Good News , not only for how she turned something bad (cancer) into something good (a new community-focused business) but also for the ways she continues to follow her dad's advice and help others. From May to August, she hosted weekly free rides on Monday nights, with contributions collected for a local nonprofit. Among those she's raised funds for so far include Pink Aid, the CT Humane Society and CLASP Homes.