Bensenville aviation shop features practical and collectble items
Aviation Universe in Bensenville sells all sorts of things to pilots and flying enthusiasts. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 22, 2013 6:19AM
BENSENVILLE — In December 2011, Richard Wells and Lora Yowell got a call from their employer in Toronto. The Canadian couple had been moved to Bensenville in October 2009 to run a retail business for aviation enthusiasts.
“Last Christmas they called and said we’re shutting you down at the end of the month,” Yowell said. “After we got over the panic, we said we could do this ourselves.”
“And better,” added Wells.
On April 21, 2012, the two opened Aviation Universe in Bensenville. The walkway to the front door is painted like a runway. Flight simulation hardware is set up in a corner.
One can find taxiway lights formerly used at O’Hare, travel toilets in a box, pilot jackets, flight simulation software, FAA flight charts, headsets ranging from $99 to $699, models, flight attendant dolls and custom aviation furniture.
Yowell, who wears a belt buckle painted with an airplane, used to be a regional pilot for Air Canada and taught other pilots. Wells has a commercial license in Canada. Two of their partners — Greg Karris and Mike Grens — are both private pilots while silent partner Kurt Eldrup was in the Air National Guard.
“Greg was one of our first customers,” Wells said. “Mike worked part time at our other stores. Lora met him through civil air patrol.”
Though their previous employer couldn’t make it, Wells and Yowell think they can make a success of an aviation business.
“They purchased a property down here for way too much money,” Yowell said. “They were upside down on the mortgage. Our sales were increasing all the time but the Canadian side of the business wasn’t doing as well and it got to a point where they weren’t buying us any inventory.”
The main challenges finding new products and alerting people that the business exists.
For the last ten months the couple have been reconnecting with former customers. They attend air shows, host signings for aviation-related books and take part in aviation organizations.
“We’re such a niche market,” Wells said. “You really have to get out there and meet people and let them know what you do.”
They’ve helped organize Aviation Watch, an organization of plane spotters. They also supply a live feed for conversation between pilots and air traffic controllers at O’Hare, which can be found at www.atc.net.
“Part of our goal is to build community with like-minded people,” Yowell said.
The couple estimates that perhaps half their customers are pilots and the rest aviation enthusiasts.