Rod Reddish, the owner of Pedal Pushers in Severna Park, kicked off the start of the holiday sale season in November with an empty store. All the bikes were sold out and on back-order.
“Santa Claus ain’t coming this year, see you later,” Reddish joked.
A few days later, the shop was graced with a handful of bikes from a reliable distributor. Those, too, flew off the rack and were sold out in a couple of days.
The coronavirus pandemic has had an unequal impact on the economy, shuttering some businesses like restaurants and bars while boosting other industries supporting a new pandemic-era lifestyle to record levels. Bike shops, fitness equipment stores, liquor stores and e-commerce companies are a handful of thriving businesses experiencing daily sale levels typically reserved for the holiday season.
“The bike boom kicked in,” Reddish said, while five people stood in line outside his shop Saturday waiting to get repairs for newly gifted bicycles. “People went crazy; bike shops just got emptied.”
The demand for bicycles has been high since the spring when customers shifted to home workouts and outdoor family activities when the pandemic first emerged. That unabated need caused bike shops to periodically have no available bikes for sale; instead, owners relied on accessory sales, with helmets and essential parts also in short supply, and profits from ceaseless requests for repairs, said Stephen Ruck, owner of Arnold Bike Doctor Inc.
“We have a lot on order for 2021; we’re seeing long wait times. Certain (bike brands) we won’t see until August or September at this point,” Ruck said. “You can blame it on everything: the shortage of raw material, shipping problems, ships coming out of Asia to the U.S. market.”
Ruck and Reddish said they’ve seen a 45% and 35% jump in profits, respectively, this year compared to 2019. The growth is celebrated for an industry that’s been flat in recent years, but also difficult to manage, the store owners say. Limited hours and a constant line of shoppers can be exhausting for their workers and themselves.
“If we ever got more than, like, an 8% growth, we felt pretty good, like we were bucking the national trend. So to see a growth pattern like this, it’s amazing,” Ruck said. “The bike industry, we got a huge push from this, but I think as an industry we really needed it.”
The Christmas holiday brought another surge for local bike shops, as more newcomers tested out the hobby and children, encouraged to spend time away from screens and play outside, are gifted new or used bikes, Ruck said.
Mountain bikes have become a hot commodity among road bikes and BMX bikes, Reddish said, with ample trails available in Anne Arundel County, including Bacon Ridge Trail, Baltimore and Annapolis (B&A) Trail, and the WB&A Trail. Reddish estimates that if one-third of bikers new to cycling stick with it, their expanded customer base will continue to drive high profits.
Bike sales and repairs are what saved Replay Sports Consignments in Glen Burnie from closing, said manager Nick Trivane. The secondhand sports equipment business is contingent on student-athletes competing in school and recreational leagues, events currently shut down as the coronavirus surges in Maryland.
“If we didn’t have bikes, we’d be out of business,” Trivane said. “The demand (this spring) was such that a person would put it up on the rack for repair, and people would buy it off the rack before it was ready to sell; that’s how bad shortage was everywhere. That was going on for weeks and then it slowed down just enough for us to start to get inventory, and we’re slowly building inventory back to where it was in April.”
The store also quickly sold out of workout equipment. Soon, with bikes out of stock at bigger box stores, foot traffic at Replay increased tenfold. Trivane estimates the two-person business sold about 700 bikes this year, compared to 350 bikes in 2019.
“Now that bikes did start to come back in the stock, we’ve seen it slow down here, but we got a chance at the way things used to be prior to the big box stores taking out all the mom and pops,” Trivane said.
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Liquor stores have also raked in record profits this year, as the need to quarantine and the inability to go to bars caused customers to stock up on supplies.
“It’s been like holiday sales. In the beginning, it was like Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, Halloween all wrapped into one,” said Meghan Sullivan, manager of Bella’s Liquors in Cape Saint Claire. “Then our sales continued. We’ve definitely killed numbers from last year throughout.”
Liquor stores are facing their battles with aluminum can shortages and distribution disruptions creating back-orders. But since the pandemic started, sales have been “astronomical,” with every month of the year bringing in more revenue than December, commonly the most profitable month for the industry because of the holiday season, said Julianne Sullivan, owner of Bella’s Liquors.
To support local restaurants and businesses that haven’t fared as well through the pandemic, Sullivan purchases and awards her customers with $25 gift cards to local eateries. The gift card giveaway is a daily event meant to promote neighboring businesses and keep restaurants on people’s minds. This spring, customers who brought in a local restaurant receipt got a 10% discount at Bella’s Liquors.
Whitebox, a thriving e-commerce company based in Curtis Bay that handles shipping for national retail outlets, has grown five-times its size over the year as people turn to the internet to shop. The company employs more than 200 people across Baltimore, Memphis and Las Vegas, and recently invested $18 million in expanding its Maryland warehouse distribution center.
“2020 has accelerated e-commerce trends over multiple years in just a few months,” said Marcus Startzel, CEO of Whitebox. “We’ve seen the move to e-commerce definitely was initially spurred on by the pandemic and then as we moved into the holiday season, obviously there were still restrictions on certain stores and different states have different rules around stay-at-home orders, etc.”
“So we’ve just seen a lot of consumers have chosen to stay at home and shop via their phones and their computers. A lot of that comes through companies like Whitebox,” he added.