Even as New Yorkers have been flocking to neighborhood bike shops amid the coronavirus crisis, shop owners find themselves in limbo.
“We have been selling bikes and accessories over the past week, but the reality is that we are going to be closed at some point. I can’t imagine that we are not,” said Andrew Crooks, owner of the NYC Velo shops in the East Village and Hell’s Kitchen.
The surging sales came after Mayor Bill de Blasio urged commuters to avoid the subway to slow the virus’s spread. Many heeded his advice, with Citi Bike ridership increasing by 67 percent from the same period last year. Subway ridership slumped by more than 60 percent this month, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to request a federal bailout for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Now the fate of bike shops remains uncertain, with Cuomo tightening restrictions on non-essential businesses in urging almost all New Yorkers to stay home.
Cuomo’s wide-ranging executive order announced Friday classified auto-repair shops and transportation providers among “essential” businesses allowed stay in operation.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson urged the state to add bike shops to that list. “Bike shops should be deemed essential services and allowed to stay open during the #coronavirus crisis. Our delivery workers will need them, as will essential workers who choose to commute by bicycle,” he tweeted.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Friday urged the city to close certain streets to traffic to give more room to pedestrians and urged the state to declare bike shops “essential” businesses that can operate during the coronavirus lockdown. https://t.co/qCcVIItaNB
— Corey Johnson – FLATTEN THE CURVE & STAY HOME (@CoreyinNYC) March 20, 2020
“I would say we are up 40 or 50 percent where I normally expect to be,” said Joseph Nocella, owner of 718 Cyclery in Brooklyn. His one-man South Slope operation is seeing first-time cyclists buying bikes, and he can’t “keep floor pumps in stock” to match the demand.
“It’s baptism by fire to start riding in these streets, but I think people need to get to work and need to get where they’re going,” said Nocella, 50, who moved his 12-year business into the space two months ago.
Park Slope’s Bicycle Habitat had seen an uptick in doctors and nurses as customers. “I have personally helped at least four different medical professionals who have stated to me that they can’t take the train so they need another way to get around,” said salesperson Michael Kahn, 38. The store was struggling to keep up with the increase in customers. “We are very busy, actually not quite prepared for it,’ said Kahn.
The store stopped accepting bike repairs overnight amid growing concerns they’ll be forced to close, joining the long list of businesses—restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and personal-care salons—reeling from the pandemic.
If the state decides bike shops are nonessential, they will close Sunday. “Whatever business we might have made over the past week or two will be dwarfed by the dollars we will not typically make in March, April or May,” said Crooks, who employs 13 staff members.
“The long-term prognosis is not good,” he said. “It’s anything but.”