BY JASON NORMAN
RAMONA, CA—While most manufacturers and shop owners escaped unscathed from the recent wildfires that swept through Southern California, most reported some form of business disruption.
Ellsworth was forced to evacuate its headquarters in Ramona, setting up a temporary administrative center in Oceanside. The company’s inventory and manufacturing are still intact. Ellsworth has continued filling standing orders, and orders taken from Interbike.
“The bad news is that the organic avocado grove that the company worked to restore on their administrative premises was burned in the fire,” said George Patten, who handles public relations for Ellsworth. “The grove houses the administrative, design and warehouse buildings at the Ellsworth headquarters.”
Oakley, located in Orange County’s Foothill Ranch, got an up close and personal look at the Santiago fire.
“We could see flames outside our window,” said Steve Blick, sports marketing manager for Oakley. Of Whiting Ranch, a popular mountain biking location in Oakley’s backyard, Blick said, “It’s toast. That’s our dirt lab. That’s where we test all our outdoor components.”
Masi Bicycles, located further south in Vista, wasn’t able to ship anything the first two days of the fire. Trucks were able to get in toward the end of the week.
“Phone activity seems to have remained steady all week,” said Masi’s Tim Jackson. “Lots of callers were concerned about us relative to the fires, but most folks in the other 49 states just wanted to get some bikes. So they were just calling with usual business in mind. We had to explain the delays and uncertainty with shipping, but most folks seemed to be understanding.”
Haro’s Jill Hamilton was out on vacation while the fires burned out of control. The fires came within three miles of her house with nothing but a brushy riverbed in between.
“Luckily, the winds shifted a bit and we never had to evacuate,” Hamilton said. “With all the destruction I’ve seen, I feel truly blessed to have dodged that bullet. It’s been really sad to see all of the homes that have been destroyed as well as some of the open space areas where I’ve enjoyed riding.”
According to OC Parks public affairs specialist Marissa O’Neil, Limestone Canyon Park and Whiting Ranch—two popular mountain bike parks in Orange County—were 90 percent burned with more than 30,000 acres destroyed. As of press time, both parks were still closed (see sidebar).
San Diego retailers escaped without much physical damage but have seen slower sales as a result. One such retailer is Kirk’s Bike Shop in Ramona. The store’s staff had to evacuate the city.
“We lost a week’s worth of business,” said Kirk Newell, owner of Kirk’s Bike Shop. “There was lots of soot and ash on the inventory, which I’m cleaning now.”
Surprisingly enough, however, customers were shopping to replace the bikes lost in the fires, but that was all they were replacing.
“I was open Saturday (Oct. 27) and I sold a patch kit,” Newell said.
It was much of the same story for San Diego’s Black Mountain Bicycles. “It’s definitely been slower than it usually is,” said shop mechanic Skip Breda. “People are coming in to replace their kids’ bikes first, cheering them up a bit,” Breda said.
Even though the fire came within a block of the store, Black Mountain Bicycles didn’t suffer any damage.
“It didn’t hit the store, but Black Mountain was burning,” Breda said. “We were closed for three days.”