WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN)—Retailers in Washington, D.C.’s densely populated neighborhoods have created loyal followings by servicing their local communities, riders found yesterday on the final day of the DC Dealer Tour.
Chris Militello and Chris Davidson opened Arrow Bicycle in Hyattsville, Maryland two years ago, just as the recession hit in May 2008. Both had lived in the neighborhood for more than 10 years and felt it was missing a bike shop. They wanted a bright, open floorspace and with Giant’s design and merchandising help opened as a Giant Bicycle Store. On a street slated for redevelopment that stalled since the recession, they get less traffic than they had hoped but have built a local customer base. “We’re hitting what we want to hit, but not by as much as we had hoped. Our three-year plan turned into a five-year plan,” said Militello. Still, he said, they wouldn’t change what they did and share their story with other prospective entrepreneurs through the local small business administration. “We tell them it’s a struggle but we love it,” he said.
At City Bikes, flat-bar steel road bikes dominate the upstairs of its two-story urban store. “We’ve always been commuter and urban focused—it’s how people use bikes to get around the city,” said merchandising manager Eric Welp. Pulling from the densely populated and trendy Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, it services local clientele. It has focused marketing dollars in the past few years on the commuter market, spending it with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and on Bike to Work Month. While high-end road has come and gone, Welp said the commuter market has remained steady. “It’s the one continual thing we’ve seen grow year after year,” he said.
It took 10 years to bring the business plan to fruition, but in May 2007 business partners Chuck Harney and Wayne Lerch opened Bike Rack. “In 2006 I said to Wayne, it’s now or never,” said Harney, a former racer who was “crispy fried” from 10 years of social work. Harney said he always wondered why there wasn’t a bike shop in Logan Circle, a once sketchy area that was refurbished and has become a trendy, gay-friendly area. He and Lerch, a home inspector, spent four months remodeling a small retail space from a doggie daycare to a bike shop, exposing a brick wall and letting in natural light. It reaches out to the community with shop rides, road and tri team sponsorships and partnerships with other area merchants. “The focus on the community has been strong with this shop,” Harney said.
Capitol Hill Bikes downsized in January moving six storefronts down to a smaller location in response to declining sales. After 10 years in the same neighborhood, it needed to downsize but wanted to stay in the area. “The neighborhood has been amazingly supportive,” said owner Denise D’Amour. When it opened in 2000, she paid $13 per square foot for the space. After 8th Street was revitalized and landscaped in 2002, her rent shot up, climbing to $50 per square foot. Sales peaked at $2 million in 2007, but then the recession hit. “High-end sales dried up and we couldn’t support the space,” she said. Downsizing allowed her to cut overhead by close to half and sales have since stabilized. “It’s been a great spring. We’re just about where we were last year with less cost,” she said.
The DC Dealer Tour wrapped up yesterday after three days of dealer visits. Visit the BRAIN Blog for photos of BRAIN editors and sponsors Giant Bicycle, Pedro’s and Todson as they braved D.C.’s city streets by bike.
The Bike Rack in D.C.'s Logan Hill neighborhood was one of 12 retail stops on BRAIN's dealer tour through the District this week. Photo by Jake Orness