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Downtown SD Shops Carve Niches

Published March 2, 2011

SAN DIEGO, CA (BRAIN)—Downtown San Diego stores in the Mission Hills area have carved out unique niches to serve the local community. Participants on BRAIN’s Dealer Tour yesterday visited four stores within a three-mile radius, each with distinct personalities.

Adams Avenue Bicycles has built its business catering to the hip North Park community by sponsoring a team with more than 80 riders, holding in-store spin classes and supporting the San Diego Bicycle Coalition and the Velodrome Association.

It also helps that the Adams Avenue name has been well-known in San Diego since the original shop opened in 1978. Current owner Andrew Lee worked there in college and when he decided to open his own shop more than two decades later, was surprised to find the name dormant as he searched the city’s expired business log.

He renewed the name and reopened in 2003, seven years after the shop’s former owners closed. “The name Adams Avenue gave buzz to the cycling community. It gave a reason for people to pop their heads into the store,” Lee said, pausing from brewing cups of espresso from the shop’s Rancilio machine.

Lee sells Bianchi, Specialized and Colnago and appeals to a wide range of riders, as evidenced by a display of Chrome urban shoes side-by-side with high-end Bont shoes.

There’s no numeric formula to what he stocks or how much inventory he carries, although he does consider recommendations from good reps with whom he has established relationships. “I’m selling whatever people are buying,” he said.

Charlie Skerlecz had been away from the retail business for about a year when he knew he “wanted to get back in.” And so he did, but this time as owner of Cal Coast Bicycles on 3020 Adams Avenue.

That address holds special significance because the store was a former Bike USA location (later bought by Performance Bike) where Skerlecz was general manager for almost 10 years.

“I knew it would get going right away,” said Skerlecz of his new store, largely because a bike shop of some sort had resided in that location since 1984.

Skerlecz has been right on the money. This year Cal Coast is up 15 percent, catering to the high-end mountain bike crowd, with Ibis, Intense and Niner frames adorning the walls.

Sky Boyer’s business of restoring bikes was booming six years ago—most definitely outgrowing his home. It was time to find a workshop, which he did on Fern Street. Little did Boyer know that by flipping a sign to “open” so he could help local kids fix a flat tire, he would actually start a bike shop. “I was not expecting it to be a bike shop,” Boyer said.

Velo Cult is unique in many ways—not just because it sells an eclectic mix of steel-only commuter, ‘cross, touring and randonneuring bikes. Velo Cult clears out its floor for the occasional wedding and underground supper club gathering—at no charge for the space.

Boyer wants to be about the community and bringing people closer together through two wheels. More evidence of his community activism is a site he launched called sdbikecommuter.com, where local businesses give 10-15 percent discounts to those who roll up on a bike.

Pista Palace happens to be next to Hamilton’s Tavern, which is how owner Justin Beope came across the vacant retail space one night three years ago.

Campagnolo and Colnago signs now hang from the ceiling of the small pro shop, which Beope claims is the biggest Time dealer in the world, selling more than 100 Time frames a year as custom builds. The destination shop caters customers who want unique, hard-to-find frames he has in stock. “People want it that instant,” he said of his clientele.

Beope plans to open a second shop on the Ides of March. Named Mucho Mountain Bikes, it will stock just 29ers from Cannondale, Salsa and Siren, as well as 29-inch compatible tires and shocks. “I think it’s a neglected market,” he said. “You go into a shop and they have one or two 29ers; I thought why not go big?”

The San Diego Dealer Tour will wrap up tomorrow with four more store visits. Be sure to check back here for more online coverage. You can also follow along with the Tour on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bicycleretailer and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bicycleretailer (click on above link).

Photo by Jake Orness: Masi's Sean Kneale and Phil Tinstman join BRAIN's Robert Roman on the Torrey Pines climb on Day 2 of BRAIN's San Diego Dealer Tour.

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