“If we could afford it, we’d close for two weeks.”
— North Portland bike shop owner
Most Portland bike shops are still open for business. Should they be?
At what point is the threat of a spreading virus more important than providing this vital community service? If only it were that simple. This is a complicated time — especially for bike shop owners who face the combined threats of the health of themselves, their employees, and their business.
As we head into a new week with the Covid-19 situation continuing to change rapidly, I’m worried that many bike shop owners will choose to remain open. Every day since Wednesday (when I feel like most of America finally woke up to the reality of what’s coming), we’ve seen more and more closures: Schools, libraries, community centers — even Portland institution Powell’s Books has decided to close.
Yesterday I planned to bike around to a few shops to get the pulse of what was going on. After being inside two shops I got creeped out about the virus and realized I should be home with my family. Before I high-tailed it home, here’s what I found out…
The first shop I stopped at, The E-Bike Store on North Albina and Rosa Parks, was closed. Owner Wake Gregg texted to say his shop is closed until at least March 21st. He has furloughed his employees. “Safety is our top priority,” he shared.
At the next shop, the sole employee working said business was slow, but he had plenty to do (bikes to service, wheels to build). As we chatted (six feet apart of course), a woman rolled a bike in. She needed a tune-up. The employee grabbed the bike and put it in the stand (without gloves and without disinfecting the bike’s surfaces). At the end of the transactions, the customer attempted to shake the employee’s hand, but he smartly demurred. As we continued to chat, we both realized how many dangers that customer had brought into the shop: A bike with unknown provenance and a person of unknown health or previous exposure. The shop doesn’t use tap-to-pay so they handle credit cards and cash — both of which can carry the virus. Suffice it to say, the employee seemed a bit squeamish about even being there.
The next shop I stopped in on had two employees and the owner inside. The whole place reeked of bleach from a deep cleaning. The employees worked on bikes a few feet from each other. The owner was somber as we talked about the situation. “We’re taking it day-by-day,” he said. It was clear he felt an obligation to his employees to stay open. “If we could afford it,” he said. “We’d close for two weeks.”
There are no easy decisions right now.
I made a bad one earlier today when I posted on Twitter and Instagram that bike shops should close. I regret posting that. It was insensitive and unhelpful.
BikePortland is going to be a helpful source of connection and information in the coming weeks and months. That includes helping local bike shops owners and staff any way we can.
On that note, Ruckus Composites owner Shawn Small posted something very helpful on Facebook just now that should be essential reading for bike shop folks. Here’s an excerpt:
“Tell your customers to be patient. Health is more important and they should understand.
Get creative. Every business situation is different. Here are some ideas that we are exploring to limit employee and customer exposure while maintaining productivity:
– Request that employees work from home if they are able to. Agree upon tasks and timelines for their completion in advance.
– Talk to your employees about separating their shifts to limit overlap. See who might want to work the weekends or during normal closed hours. Like you, they are probably concerned and willing to make some sacrifices.
– If you have more than one entrance, designate one for employees only and a different one for customers.
– Post a note on your exterior door that lays out your ground rules and policies for customers before they enter.
– Schedule appointments in advance. Call, text or email first.
– If things slow down, work on those projects that you’ve never had time for. Deep dive into planning. Work on marketing content. Learn a new skill or computer software.
– How can your business come back and be stronger than ever when things eventually return to normal?”
And as I shared on Thursday, buying gift certificates and gift cards is another great way to support your local shop. I’m sure all of you follow your shop on social media, so click through to their websites to buy them, or contact them for details.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Should shops close or stay open? How can we help our friends who provide this vital community service? (See more community discussion on our Instagram post.)
UPDATE: The Community Cycling Center is closed for two weeks starting Monday (3/16): “This closure will be at a substantial loss to the organization, as we end our current budget year on March 31,” they shared via Twitter.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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