NEW YORK, NY (BRAIN)—Down the East Side and up the West Side, from Hell's Kitchen to Tribeca, the BRAIN Dealer Tour crew, about 16 strong, pedaled around Manhattan Thursday on a mission to cram in as many store visits as possible.
On the way, during the third and final day of the tour, we stopped in at one of the most inventory-crammed shops in the country — a bit of a throwback in terms of merchandising, but you can't argue with success. We also stopped in at one of the rare stores on Manhattan selling high-end mountain bikes, and a new shop not far from the financial district that looked more like an art gallery or a high-end boutique for European city bikes and accessories.
Sid’s got its start in the Bronx during the 1970s gas crunch as a seller of auto parts and--an alternative to motorized transport—bicycles, of course. Auto parts quickly went to the wayside.
The retailer has since moved to two Manhattan locations, on the island’s east and west sides. Our tour dropped in Thursday on the former, Sid’s 14-year-old store on 34th Street, first successor to the Bronx original.
Mountain bikes, especially long-travel ones, can be a hard sell in the concrete jungle, but Sid’s serves dirt junkies strongly, with a Niner prominent in the street-front window and rigs from Santa Cruz, Intense and best-selling brand Cannondale—even the occasional downhill sled—front and center when customers step into the shop.
Although midprice road bikes are the 34th Street’s meat and potatoes—“We sell a crazy amount of CAAD 10s,” store manager Brian Pierce said—Sid’s has become a magnet not only to locals, but to international customers.
“We get people from Europe, Brazil,” said Pierce. A high-end downhill bike from Specialized, for example, might cost them five figures at home, but for the same price “they can fly here, have a trip to New York, and pay the same amount” as they would domestically, said Pierce.
No two ways about it: This shop near New York’s Union Square is uber-stocked.
The fourth of five locations—No. 1 is a block away, now a storage and service satellite for its younger but larger brother—owner Carlos Dall’Orso’s store is an absolute riot of bikes and gear.
Helmets by a multitude of brands including Giro, Bern, Uvex, Nutcase and Vigor rise to the elevated ceiling. Bikes from primary performance supplier Cannondale as well as Bianchi, Jamis, KHS, Cinelli and ASI’s Fuji Bikes, SE Racing and Breezer loft from racks. At the store’s center, they form a walk-through corridor of dangling wheels that customers—at least those more vertically inclined—juke and jive to keep from dinging their melon.
The comprehensive selection of locks, bells, fenders and bags—including high-volume and waterproof storage for the Big Apple’s restaurant delivery business—speak to the shop’s NYC bona fides. And repair service, about 20 percent of the five-store retailer’s revenue, is a huge source of pride for Spokesman’s affable Peru-born, Brooklyn-raised proprietor.
“We’ll work on anybody’s bicycle. The lady who bought her three-speeder 30 years ago, we’ll open it up and take care of it,” said Dall’Orso, a former road racer who still rides … and provides a delectable spread of lunchtime munchies for visiting bike journos, thank goodness.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were at a bike boutique in Europe. But Adeline Adeline’s selection of Dutch, British, Danish, Finish and German city bikes are ideal for the type of riding in New York City, says storeowner Julie Hirschfeld. “I like their functionality,” she said.
Hirschfeld opened this 1,300-square-foot Tribeca store two years ago to appeal to non-cyclists. As such, the emphasis is on lifestyle rather than performance. She scoped out European bike brands that most New Yorkers probably have never heard of—names such as WorkCycles (Dutch), Pashley, Brompton and Bobbin (British), and Retrovelo (German). For the kids she carries Jopo, a classic Finish bike, as well as child carriers from Dutch brands Bobike and Yepp. Rather than racking them up by the dozens, she displays a little more than a handful in a way that showcases the bikes like art. “We deal with a lot of new riders, and having a lot of choice is intimidating,” she said.
A former graphic designer specializing in motion graphics, Hirschfeld’s artistic background is manifested through playful and original product displays—glass jars are filled with bells of all sizes and wicker baskets hold chain covers and helmet bows. It’s all about cycle chic here with a quirky medley of accessories that are functional and stylish. Her approach has rung a bell with women, who comprise as much as 70 percent of her customer base.
Hirschfeld doesn’t carry apparel or shoes—“I don’t believe in apparel for biking. You should be able to ride bikes in street clothes. I want to make it as easy as possible for people to ride—so it comes down to a bike, helmet and lock,” she said.
She admits it’s been a rollercoaster to get up to speed on the technical aspects of bikes and the intricacies of running a retail store, but she says her store—named after her two grandmothers—is turning a profit. Her untraditional business model has not gone unnoticed by local and national media with write-ups in fashion magazines and blogs as well as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Just a stone's throw from Adeline Adeline, Gotham Bikes is one of the three stores owned by David Nazaroff and Louie Viera. The other two are the Toga! shops on the East Side and in Nyack, New York.
Gotham manager Jose Ledesma loves the city that he came to as a young Dominican immigrant; he likes to tease visitors from the other boroughs: "You can't say you're from New York City unless you are in New York City! Brooklyn's not New York," he said with a smile.
Ledesma started with Gotham under its original owner, and he's one of the chain's longest-standing employees. He still retains his love for high-end road bikes, including his own vintage Merlin.
We didn't get a chance to visit the East Side Toga! store, which is claimed to be the largest shop in the city (presumably not counting Brooklyn's R&A Cycles, which we visited Tuesday. The folks there say their's is the world's largest bicycle store.
During this tour of 13 stores, we saw a range of very focused stores, each targeting a specific niche, from high-end road to randonneur to family to pricy Euro city machines. Even Spokesman, with its huge inventory, is focused in its own way, on the tastes and flavor of Dall’Orso's interests in all-things bicycle. It does take a certain kind of customer to appreciate poking around at the Spokesman, and in that way, it's a niche store.
Gotham, our last visit, was in some ways the most general purpose store, and we mean that as a compliment. It's merchandised well, but not in a fussy way. It's not extravagantly large or small. It's close enough to Tribeca and the financial district to sell some high-end road and mountain bikes, but it also serves the neighborhood with mid-priced hybrids and service for bike messengers and delivery men.
Gotham City is the fictional home of comic book superheroes, and Gotham Bikes could be a comic artist's vision of an ideal bike shop, with a retro feel remade with some high-tech gadgetry for today's audience. Bam! Pow Zap! Sock! Ka-pow!