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Maryland retailer moves store after extensive remodel

Published October 29, 2014

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (BRAIN) — With more than 35 years of experience as a multi-store retailer, Alex Obriecht has learned a thing or two about opening new stores and moving existing ones.

Obriecht opened his first store in West Baltimore in 1978 when he was just 21. Cross Country Cycling Center was rebranded as Race Pace Bicycles with the opening of a third triathlon-oriented store in Ellicott City in 1984, and a number of expansions and moves followed throughout the ’90s. The Race Pace store count rose to four and the focus shifted from triathlon back to bikes. In 2010, a fifth store opened in downtown Baltimore, a market that Obriecht said he had looked at for years.

But despite a long history of change and growth, it was the recent move of Race Pace’s Ellicott City store that Obriecht said is his most extensive project to date.

After learning that the strip mall where Race Pace Ellicott City was housed for 30 years would be torn down, Obriecht began looking for a new building to rent. Buying property wasn’t something he had initially considered, but commercial rentals were expensive and difficult to find. So in December 2012, Obriecht purchased a 7,000-square-foot warehouse that had previously been used to store excavating equipment.

He hired an architect and the building was gutted and remodeled inside and out. An additional 4,800 square feet of space was also added to the building. The process took more than 21 months — nearly a year longer than Obriecht had anticipated.

“I learned a lot of lessons this time around,” Obriecht said. “If I ever do this kind of thing again, my expectations about the time frame will be tempered.”

Race Pace Ellicott City opened in its new location in August, and currently has a staff of about 15. It is home to Race Pace’s women’s store, Bella Bikes, which originally opened in the first Ellicott City location in 2008.

“It was the first all-women’s bicycle store in the country. In the old space, it had a separate entrance and a large selection of bikes and apparel,” Obriecht said. “In the move, we’ve doubled its size and it’s a gorgeous space, maybe even a bit over the top. But it meets women’s shopping expectations, down to benches and lots of hooks in the fitting rooms and good lighting — stuff you might see at Nordstrom.”

Obriecht also said the new store has anywhere from 80 to 110 built women’s bikes on the floor — and that between all the Race Pace locations, there are around 600 women’s models available at any given time. “We want women to come and understand that while not every woman needs a women’s-specific model, we have a good selection built and available.” All five of Obriecht’s stores have dedicated women’s departments, with apparel merchandised on white hangers to set it apart.

Although he has been a Trek dealer since 1980, Obriecht said all five of his stores also sell a number of other brands to round out offerings and add character. Each store is allowed to “cherry-pick” brands like Cervélo, Felt, Kona, Parlee, Moots and others in order to best serve their respective markets and set them apart.

“You won’t find the same product selection in all the stores. One store caters more to the urban market, another has a strong mountain clientele, and touring is big in another,” Obriecht said. “We want to avoid the white-bread, cookie-cutter approach.”

Three of Obriecht ’s stores are at least 10,000 square feet in size, and that is not an accident. While Obriecht said he realizes that the industry trend is to shrink the retail footprint, he thinks that the positives of having large stores outweigh the negatives.

“Costs are higher with a larger space, and that can be a minus,” Obriecht said. “But when you walk into a Race Pace store, you should be able to find and buy anything you are looking for and not have to go buy it elsewhere — and that makes it worth it.”


Race Pace serves the first customers to patronize the Maryland retailer’s new location in Ellicott City.

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