Tucked away in a parking lot across from the Lyon Center, Lil Bill’s Bike Shop can be easy to miss. The shop, which resembles a plastic shed, has become a popular place for students to reinflate flat tires, purchase spare parts, or chat with “Lil Bill” himself: Aaron Flournoy, the shop’s owner.
“The name comes from my dad, whose name is Bill, and he has been a pillar in this community for over 40 years,” Flournoy said. “He owned a bike shop down the street, but he sold the business. Everyone always called me little Bill, because Pops was always big Bill.”
The shop holds a strong place in the University Park Campus area, but according to David Donovan, an associate director of the USC Transportation Office, USC agreed to a non-compete clause with a new bike shop opening in USC Village this summer. Lil Bill’s Bike Shop will no longer remain on USC-owned property, leaving Flournoy in a state of uncertainty.
“My dad is 81, so he’s selling his store and retiring,” Flournoy said. “This was a perfect opportunity for me to carry it on, and I thought it was going to be something good. But it’s turning out to be bad.”
According to Donovan, the complications surrounding the establishment of Lil Bill’s Bike Shop can be traced back to last fall, when USC purchased the United University Church property.
When Flournoy purchased the business under its original name, Tommy’s Bike Repair, the shop was originally located in the United University Church parking lot, a privately owned property at the time. This enabled the shop’s original owner, Micah Greenberg, to establish a contract with the church that allowed for a bike shop on its premises, which he passed on to Flournoy.
However, when USC purchased the church property after years of negotiation, the contract became invalid and Flournoy was given until December 2016 to relocate, according to Donovan.
Instead of requiring Flournoy to vacate USC entirely, Donovan was able to relocate him to a different spot on campus: in a parking lot at the corner of 34th Street and McClintock Avenue, where Flournoy has remained. But after the establishment of the non-compete clause, Flournoy is no longer allowed on USC property and must leave campus by April 30, according to Donovan.
“Finding him that space was just a courtesy,” Donovan said. “I like Aaron a lot, and we were trying to help him as much as we could just because of the circumstances he found himself in. Having said that, Aaron has known from the beginning that this was a temporary arrangement.”
Though Lil Bill’s Bike Shop has only been on campus for less than a year, Flournoy and his family have been servicing the USC community for over 40 years. According to Flournoy, he and his father even built cardinal and gold bikes for the USC baseball team.
“I have so much love for this campus and this school,” Flournoy said. “Everyone that’s met me knows how much me and my family love this school and stand behind it. And for USC to tell me to go, or that I’m no longer needed or welcome, I think is an injustice.”
Flournoy is not the only one who is frustrated with the situation. Many students speculate that USC Village’s bike shop will not be as convenient or affordable as Lil Bill’s Bike Shop. An online petition has been created in response, and has collected 207 signatures and 42 comments as of March 23.
“A lot of the time I feel like [USC’s] decisions are coming from the economic standpoint and not really from the social and cultural community that’s built around USC,” said Emma Schiewe, a senior majoring in art history and human biology and customer of Lil Bill’s Bike Shop. “I get money-wise it might be more economically satisfying for USC to have a bike store in the Village, but not only is the old shop more convenient, it’s also a smaller place where you don’t feel like you’re going to get cheated out of getting good parts and good prices.”
The conflict between USC and Lil Bill’s Bike Shop has also sparked criticism toward USC’s treatment of small businesses in the surrounding community.
“USC should protect small businesses,” said Jack Tenney, a freshman majoring in business administration. “[Fluorney] is really hardworking and people really appreciate how nice he is and how seriously he takes his job. I don’t think it’s right to put him out of work just so we can have a bigger bike shop.”
Despite the criticism, Donovan believes there is a substantial amount of public misperception due to a lack of background information surrounding the situation between USC and Flournoy’s business.
“I hate reading things that say USC is ‘kicking him out’ or ‘booting him off the property’ or other rhetoric like that,” Donovan said. “That really doesn’t serve any useful purpose because that’s not what’s happening.”
On the other hand, Flournoy, a South Central L.A. native, sees USC’s commitment to supporting local businesses contradicted by its lack of action.
“My family has been here in this community for so long, and all I ever heard was how USC wants to go out and help the community and help small mom-and-pop businesses, but I don’t see it happening,” Fluornoy said.
In addition to the non-compete clause, there are issues surrounding the placement of Lil Bill’s Bike Shop that require Flournoy to relocate. According to Donovan, the city of Los Angeles has identified the shop as an illegal business because it is operating out of parking lot and occupying a handicap space.
“USC has tried to help him to the fullest extent possible, and he knows that,” Donovan said. “I don’t blame him for trying to do what he can to save his business, and I want him to be successful as a small businessman. He just can’t do it on USC property.”
Right now, Flournoy’s main priority is finding a permanent location for his shop and garnering public support.
“I’m hoping that the president of the University or somebody who has the power to make decisions will understand my fight and my cause,” Flournoy said.