Many New Yorkers are under orders to stay home from work, but bike shop owners found themselves happily surprised to be exempted from that rule.
The Governor’s Office added bicycle repair shops to their list of essential services two weeks ago, right next to car-repair services.
“Some of our clients need their bike daily to get to essential employment,” said Robert Fullem, founder of The Downtube Bicycle Works in Albany. “A lot of those people work at places like the [Albany] Medical Center, for example.”
Fullem, who has been running Downtube since 1974, said bike shops were initially not included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s exceptions to stay-at-home orders. He applied for an exemption, but soon got word that all bike shops were now considered essential.
For Jon Benn, getting to work via bicycle has always been a way to get exercise and help reduce carbon emissions. It’s exactly four miles from his home in Bethlehem to his job at Emblem Health Family Dental Practice on Western Avenue. “I’ve been doing this commute for 21 years now, and it’s usually me and one other guy that I see commuting,” said Benn, who also is on the board of directors of the Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club. “But I’ve seen a lot more people out on their bikes using them for errands; you see people with backpacks or baskets with groceries.”
When one of his wheels needed a repair recently, Benn was able to call CK Cycles in Colonie and arrange to drop off the bad wheel in their parking lot rather than going inside the store.
In New York City, bikes serve an even larger transportation need. Usage of Citi Bike, New York’s ride-share program, shot up in March, according to the New York Times.
Another reason for bicycle shops to stay open: New Yorkers’ mental health.
Pressure from the lack of social gatherings, watching kids 24/7, and other worries can be remedied with a bike ride, advocates and mental health experts say.
“This overall is making people more outdoor-friendly,” said Ryszard Szumski, service manager at Freeman’s Bridge Sports in Glenville. “People are getting into cycling, whether it’s through our shop or through a big box store.”
New Yorkers cooped up in their houses seem to be finding renewed interest for biking, according to shop owners.
“We’re seeing a lot of extra service work on bicycles people have had in their garage that haven’t seen the light of day in a while,” said Steve Fairchild, manager at Grey Ghost bicycles. “There’s some bikes coming in the door where I’m kind of scratching my head.”
In February, his Glens Falls-based shop opened a second location in Saratoga, with a grand opening originally planned for March 20th. Now, they only let one customer at a time inside the new shop to drop off or pick up their bikes. Fairchild said it’s difficult for him to sell the new bikes that he already has in inventory.
But some other shops are seeing high demand from parents wanting to get their kids out of doors. “Kids’ bikes are really selling quickly right now,” said Neil Auty, manager of Bike Works in Johnstown. “It’s been actually a struggle to re-order them, everybody seems to be sold out.”
Fullem said keeping the historic Downtube in Albany open gives him pause, but the benefits to transportation and mental health outweigh the risks. “I still go back and forth: Are we being foolish to be open? But at this point, I’m coming down on the side that the state says we’re essential,” said Fullem.