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Delaware bike shops see surge in sales, supply shortages amid pandemic

Bike stores in Delaware have seen a massive surge in business during the pandemic. But the new normal is not all good for these local shops. 

Jan Bohan was one of several customers vying for attention at Garrison’s Cyclery in Centerville Thursday morning. She decided to invest in a new bike because she rides much more now that her gym is closed and she works from home.

“Can’t go out to the bars and restaurants, so this has been more where I’ve put my focus,” she said.

She’s not alone. Bike sales have spiked nationwide as Americans seek socially distant exercise and transportation. Now retailers face a severe shortage. 

 

Centerville shop owner Rob Garrison says he sold out of bikes costing less than a $1,000 months ago, and has not been able to restock, because suppliers are also sold out. 

Garrison and his staff put in extra hours every day they’re open to deal with the barrage of requests for repairs and tune-ups as people ride more or dust off old bikes. He’s booked out weeks in advance for service. But that doesn’t mean he’s making a profit. 

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Jan Bohan stands with her new bike at Garrison's Cyclery

 

 

“Shops like ours can't run on service,” said Garrison. “We have to make sales. So having showrooms closed and not having product available to sell, you’re watching that amazing boost in margin go right into the toilet because eight out of ten phone calls you’re saying no to because we don’t have product.”

Garrison says his shop’s current balance of sales and service is not financially sustainable. If this is the new normal, he’ll need to turn to online sales or “close up,” he says.

Randy Hall owns Bicycle Connection in Bethany Beach. He says bicycle sales there have at least doubled over pre-pandemic levels. 

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Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Garrison's has set up an outdoor space behind the shop to facilitate social distancing

“Our sales in March were not even as strong as they had been the previous March,” he said. “But then the first week of April it just took off like a rocket.”

Hall has been in the bicycle business for decades and says the only thing he can compare this surge to is the oil crisis in the 1970s. 

Hall says his shop was lucky to have a solid inventory of bikes in storage — and has been the only option for customers from as far as Richmond because many other shops are sold out. Still, he recognizes the crunch in the supply chain. 

“January and February, most of the component manufacturers, which are located in Asia, basically shut down. So if parts are not getting produced, bikes are not getting made,” he said. “Dealers such as myself were ordering from their suppliers. Once we took all our suppliers’ inventory, the supplier was sitting there with an empty warehouse.”

Hall says the first thing to sell out was kids’ bikes. 

“People came in and said, this kid’s driving me crazy, I gotta get him outside,” he said. “Then the more affordable adult bikes for parents to ride, that was the next thing that sold out.”

Hall predicts some portion of the increase in sales will continue for years to come, even if the pandemic ends, because he thinks cycling is becoming “more accepted.” 

“Some of these bikes may end up getting used five times, getting thrown in the garage and just collecting dust,” he said. “But I think a good portion of them will continue to get used, and get used heavily.”

For her part, Jan Bohan cancelled her gym membership and sees herself riding outdoors permanently.

“I’m loving what I’m doing,” she said. “I’m not interested in coming back.”

 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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