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Throwback Thursday: Chicago retail scene shows stability

Published November 2, 2017
Chicago's IBDs focus on the business with little drama

CHICAGO (BRAIN) — Unlike many of the other markets the BRAIN staff visited on our Dealer Tours, there's been no turnover among the Chicago-area retailers we visited in 2013. If you value stability and you like speaking with the same shop owner year after year, then Chicago is your market.

In our December print issue, BRAIN is revisiting a few of the markets that we've visited on our Dealer Tours over the last few years. Chicago is one of the markets that we're checking in on. 

Of the 14 shops we visited four years ago, none have closed. Three shops have expanded while one downsized.

And it is not just the shops that are stable. A commuter and family dominated market means it is relatively free from chasing every new trend suppliers try out. Chicagoans use bikes for transportation or to efficiently move kids around, bringing service dollars into shops all year long.

Service demand is so high that a few shops were running two shifts of mechanics and still found it hard to keep up. Ciclo Urbano started its own mechanics school to help high school cyclists turn their passion into a career as well as keep on top of its own service needs. Still the supply of mechanics was so tight that many owners said their service departments were perennially understaffed.

There has been one big change since our visit: Jim Kersten of Edgebrook Cycle & Sport restarted the Chicago Area Bicycle Dealers Association and its trade show, which has grown quickly over the last three years. The CABDA show is scheduled to be twice the size it was last year as area retailers get an important trade show tailored to their needs and seasonality.

Another change: Divvy, Chicago's bike share program, launched a month after the BRAIN visit, and is now one of the nation's largest share programs. Has Divvy grown area sales, or cut into them? It's a question we will ask.

E-bikes and cargo bikes, relatively new categories three years ago, were just starting to carve out their place in the Chicago market when we visited. We'll be asking retailers whether those categories and others have impacted business.

BRAIN's Matt Wiebe is writing about changes in the Chicago market. He can be reached at mwiebe@bicycleretailer.com.

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