Bike shops are the poster child for small business, but like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, they’re falling victim to this region’s high cost of living and, to a lesser extent, online buying.
James Lucas, president and owner of Calmar Bicycles located on El Camino Real in Santa Clara, announced the store’s closure in a press release dated Feb. 24. I stopped by the next day to buy some parts and find out more.
“Our landlord sold the building and it will be torn down for a mixed-use 151-unit apartment/retail complex,” Lucas said. Rather than wait around for an uncertain closing date, Lucas said, “I decided it was time to move on and look for something else. Sales have been flat for a while now.”
Ironically, it is the region’s healthy economy and desirability that caused Lucas to close up shop. “It’s too expensive to have a small business here,” Lucas said. In addition to the high cost of retail leases, housing is the most expensive in the country. Lucas said there’s only one way for a small business to make it here. “You have to own your building. And if you’re not in high-tech, it’s hard to make a life here.”
The online buying trend also hurts bike shops, but in a roundabout way. Lucas explained that while bike sales have not gone to online purchases, accessory sales have taken a hit. “That’s a problem because the healthy margins are in accessories, not bikes.” On top of that, the bike industry has been “eating its young,” by forcing bike shops to pay higher prices for accessories. Many shop owners have resorted to buying accessories online themselves rather than going through dealers.
For someone who has a long career ahead of him and one that might no longer involve bicycles, Lucas laments the loss of Calmar Bicycles. He said it was originally called Santa Clara Bicycles in the 1890s. Over the years the shop was called Rick’s Bikes and Desimone’s, a branch of the San Jose business.
He remains upbeat about his future. “I’m keeping all my options open.”