Mischke aims high with Basalt Bike and Ski’s expansion to Aspen, Carbondale
February 12, 2017
Joel Mischke never set out to become the kingpin of the Roaring Fork Valley bicycle-retailing scene. When opportunity knocked, he did what he does best: stomped the pedals.
Mischke was a Boulder kid and bike racer who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1994. He worked in Aspen at Incline Ski Shop during winters and Ajax Bike and Sport during summers. He eventually became a minority owner in Incline as well as the manager, but the sale of the store in 2005 triggered a domino effect.
"I thought my future was going to be at Incline. I discovered it wasn't going to be," he said.
Mischke bought the Basalt store of Ajax Bike and Sport on Jan. 3, 2006, when owner Craig Petersen wanted to downsize. Petersen had his flagship store in Aspen, a growing business in Carbondale and a smaller operation in Basalt.
Mischke had worked for Petersen for parts of 12 years by that time and had started a family in Basalt. He and his wife, Kimi, had twins about the same time they took the plunge as business owners. He wanted to see if he could make a go of it in the tough retail scene.
Basalt Bike and Ski built a strong business in its Midland Avenue space in more than six years on Basalt's main street. Mischke decided to move to a slightly larger space in Willits Town Center in September 2012. Downtown commercial spaces have relatively high rents, he said, but the biggest hurdle to staying was the inability to expand. And while the summer business traffic was strong, it dwindled during winters, he said.
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Exposure hasn't been an issue for Basalt Bike and Ski at Willits Town Center, where Whole Foods anchors the development and draws traffic year-round.
Expansion to Aspen, Carbondale
Ten years after diving into the bike and ski business, opportunity knocked again. Mischke took over Petersen's lease on the Cooper Avenue mall in Aspen in June. The trifecta was completed in December when Petersen sold Mischke his last shop in Carbondale, along with the building fronting Highway 133.
"Craig is very happily retired," Mischke said.
That makes Mischke only the second bike retailer, behind Petersen, to operate three shops in the Roaring Fork Valley. Petersen's departure comes after about 35 years in the Aspen-area bike scene. He and former business partner Michael Wampler opened shop just as mountain biking exploded in the valley in the early and mid-1980s. Wampler is still in business at Aspen Velo. Another of Aspen's longtime bike peddlers, Charlie Tarver, closed the Hub of Aspen this winter.
Mischke cringed at the suggestion he is the reigning kingpin of the business with three shops in the valley. Despite three stores, each store is a small-town shop in their respective communities, he said.
All three shops have the Basalt Bike and Ski name, with designations noting the Aspen and Carbondale locations. Mischke is contemplating how to handle long-term branding of the shops.
'Service, service, service'
Overseeing all three shops will present challenges, he acknowledged. First and foremost, he is concerned about getting spread too thin. He will lean on some longtime managers and employees to make it work. Jesse Bones is the manager at Basalt. Jacob Baer manages in Carbondale. Both have been with Mischke for about six years.
All told, the shops employ 25 workers during winters and 30-plus in summers.
Coming from a ski shop background, he's pushing that side of the business harder than it was in the past at Aspen and Carbondale, though at this point about 70 percent of his business is from bikes. He has what he called a mature ski shop, with sales, rentals and service.
Aspen is his biggest concern because of the high commercial rents.
"If I can make wintertime successful in Aspen, it's going to make it," he said.
In an era where Main Street retailers are disappearing, falling victim to online sales and big boxes, Mischke said he and other similar shops have weathered the storm for one primary reason.
"It's service, service, service," he said. "(It's) having real down home locals' ski and bike shops with exceptional service, with real world pricing."
He stresses to his workers the value of personal contact with customers and providing expertise to find them the right matches in equipment and gear. Service and repairs of bikes and tuning of skis is a big plus.
Weather and the general economy are the biggest external factors influencing business. Long stretches of wet weather keep people off their bikes and out of his shops.
"When it's good, it's really good, and when it's bad, it's really bad," Mischke said.
But Mischke is immersed in the cycling culture, so he's prepared for the long haul in business like he was prepared in the past as a competitor. His record includes top-five finishes in the Leadville 100 endurance race. He knows what it takes in the long haul.