MANKATO — When COVID-19 first put a stay-at-home order in place in March, the question for Nicollet Bike & Ski shop owner Justin Rinehart seemed simple.
Was a bike shop going to be considered an essential business?
The answer to that question ended up being yes, which was good. But then came another question — one that would prove much more important.
In a time where there’s not a lot of disposable income, could a bike shop get any business?
“Coming into the pandemic, we certainly had huge concerns just as every small business had,” Rinehart said. “Given the scenario of everyone not working, we were assuming most people would not want to spend money on anything, let alone bikes. We were hopeful, but we still weren’t confident.”
It’s been about seven weeks since then, and now a third question has risen to the forefront for the local shop.
Are we going to run out of bikes to sell?
“People have just been rushing in to buy bikes like crazy. The joke that’s been kicked around is that bike shops are like toilet paper a month ago. If you want it, you’d better get it now.
“We’ve got families that have come in with kids that are in traditional sports. They’ve straight up told us, ‘We’ve budgeted all this money for hotel expenses. We’re going to buy everybody bikes.’”
The shop has existed for nearly 50 years, with its best month in terms of profit coming in May 2019. That record was shattered this April, as profits were roughly 80% higher than last May.
Normally, the shop has more than 300 different units of bikes on hand. Right now, that number sits at less than 100. While that’s good, it’s also a concern. New 2020 model bikes are no longer being made, as manufacturers already have shifted their focus to 2021 models.
They will not be able to go back and make more 2020 bikes because they need to be ready for the 2021 selling season. Rinehart said manufacturers are trying to speed up the process for next year’s models, but it likely won’t be quick enough if the sales pace holds.
“If we can’t get supplies from our vendors, we’re not going to be able to keep selling bikes at the capacity that we’re accustomed to,” Rinehart said. “It’s basically the best bike boom that the industry has seen in decades for sure.”
While the bikes are flying off the shelves, they aren’t the only recreation item people have turned to.
Fleet Farm General Manager Bernie Wehseler said bikes have been the toughest item to keep stocked, but kayaks are a close second. He also noted the store is struggling to keep fire pits stocked, as families seemingly have more time for bonfires.
At Scheels, store leader Brandon Scheel was quick to add in roller skates and yard games as popular items. He also said the store is basically out of weights with the gyms being closed.
“In spite of all the negativity that the virus has created, one of the few positives is it’s created more family time,” Wehseler said.
Added Scheel: “People need a change of pace from sitting inside, watching TV and playing video games.”
Whenever people are able to return to normal life, there’s no doubt many will go back to their old way of doing things. But the new hobbies will stick with some, which makes Rinehart happy as a biker just as much as a store owner.
“It’s really exciting and encouraging to see how many people are recreating outdoors,” Rinehart said. “My biggest hope is that people rediscover what life at a slower pace can be, and how valuable that is for physical and mental health.”
Follow Kevin Dudley on Twitter @Dudley7Kevin.