Business Monday: Aspen bike shops crank up business despite coronavirus
The ski industry’s loss has been its biking counterpart’s gain, at least in Aspen of late.
“The day the mountains closed,” as Hub of Aspen employee Austin Nevin put it Saturday, is when business got cranking earlier than usual.
That day was March 15, when Gov. Jared Polis’ order took effect, shutting down the state’s ski areas to slow the spread of COVID-19. The last of Aspen Skiing Co.’s mountain closures typically happens mid-April unless conditions warrant a longer season.
The crossover among skiers and cyclists is unmistakable in mountain towns like Aspen, and while other businesses and retailers have been crippled by the pandemic, the biking industry is seeing the reverse effect.
“Sales are pretty much at an all-time high and service is right there, too,” Nevin said of the Hub of Aspen, a full-service shop downtown. “I can’t get bikes out fast enough. We pride ourselves and we kind of cut our teeth on being able to service a bike between 24 and 48 hours. On service right now, that is four to seven days. … We’ve never been close to anything like this.”
Aspen also reflects a national trend showing a surge in consumer demand for bicycles and service. The New York Times reported May 18 that nationwide sales of bicycles nearly doubled in March, citing the market research company N.P.D. Group.
The demand has led to a dearth of youth-sized bicycles in Aspen, according to shop managers and owners.
“I can’t find any kids’ bikes through my distributors,” said Patrick Diet, owner of Aspen Bicycles, which usually opens in the middle of April but held off until May 7.
Diet said it’s hard to keep up with rentals and sales, and locals as well as visitors are fueling the surge.
“Financially, I’ve made up for the loss already,” he said of opening later than usual.
The Pitkin County Board of Health also pegged bike shops as a nonessential business in the second week of April, which ran counter to state orders allowing bike sales and service, and triggering local criticism from both shops and consumers. Recognizing the order was an oversight, the board changed it to allow to shops to sell and service bicycles.
Aspen Velo owner Luke Wampler opened his store April 23, the day bike shops were allowed to reopen under the revised order.
“Normally I would open May 15, but people are hungry to be outside,” he said.
By 1 p.m. Saturday, Wampler said his business already had rented out 30 e-bikes.
“When I mean it’s busy, it’s like it is now in July,” he said. “And this is pretty standard for Memorial Day weekend, but I was expecting the pandemic to affect it more.”
Bike tunes are up 20% to 30% for this time of the year, he said, “and I’m turning away sales on a daily basis” because of a lack of inventory.
Bike shops also are beholden to public health orders and keeping the rental cycles clean and sanitary. Checking employees’ temperatures before they start the work day also is standard operating procedure.
“Everybody who walks in and out of here has to wear a mask,” Diet said. “And it’s surprising that some people still walk in without one.”
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