Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Bike shops are never "raking it in."

El Queso Grande had to solo one day while I was away. A repair and rental load that would have seemed ominously scanty when we had a full staff is more than enough to paralyze the shop with only one or two mechanics available, and only one of them very experienced. With El Queso Grande juggling all the chainsaws by himself, it looked to the untrained eye like a man barely finding time to open the cash register to stash away the shower of doubloons that must be coming from all these customers lined up at every door and counter.

Someone even said, "You must really be raking it in."

Bike shops are never raking it in. One nice young man with money to burn did buy an eleven thousand dollar road bike from us this summer, but that was one guy, one bike, one time. The average bike sells for maybe $400, with a clear profit of less than $100, after you extract overhead expenses. Probably closer to $10. Bigger shops are just making more of those average sales, with correspondingly higher overhead expenses. They might also sell more of the higher end bikes, but probably not a lot of the $11,000 variety. And more expensive bikes require lots more diligence, skill, and experience to assemble correctly and tune precisely enough to satisfy a customer who has dropped anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 for what is now a mid-range or barely high-end bike. It still seems like a lot of money to most of us, even if the steady march of generational inflation has made it worth less.

Because of our short staff, we have had to turn work away. This is the first time since I started there 30 years ago that I have seen the management say we just couldn't do something. We've always tried to cram it in. Granted, it's partly because they've realized -- belatedly -- that life itself is more valuable than money, and that they have to get out of the shop to enjoy that life, but it's also because business itself is now so scanty that we couldn't afford staff even if we could find any. We have to make do with our own selves, and the couple of welcome fill-in people who will work specific days. And one of them just got a real job, coaching cross-country running and cross-country skiing at Clarkson University. His last day was Sunday.

When the rush of business ends, it dumps us into a weird solitude. The town still looks pretty much the same. The late summer sun spreads its golden light over the waters that are still warm, the green trees abuzz with cicadas. But no one jockeys for parking. No crawling, baking parade of motor vehicles inches through Main Street. No throng of pedestrians spreads out in all directions from the center of town. No money comes into the cash register. Because summer has shrunk to Fourth of July weekend and the first three weeks of August, that's it for major earning potential. Foliage tourism has dwindled significantly since the 1990s. Winter tourism for us depends on good natural conditions, which have become even more unreliable than New England's schizophrenic weather already was.

The changing climate and polluted world have led to such things as algae blooms that will kill your dog if it swims in an infected lake or pond, and a surge in tick-borne illnesses. El Queso Grande got anaplasmosis this summer, on top of his other challenges. In our country's asinine treasure hunt of a medical system, that entailed driving to labs "in his network" that he can also afford. That really cuts into the "raking it in." And that was after his carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel surgery: more overhead expenses related to remaining alive.

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