Essential business: Bicycle shops shift gears to keep customers riding

Jenn Rowan of Lifecycle in Milford repairs a wheel. Lifecycle, which was declared an essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic, has the ability to repair bikes, wheelchairs and farm equipment.

MILFORD — When the list of businesses allowed to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic was first released, bicycle shops were not on it.

But the bike shops made their case. And 24 hours later, they were deemed essential.

Bicycle dealers may make sales by appointment only with no more than two per half hour, according to the official regulations from the state. Customers are encouraged to call ahead or contact the stores on social media.

Jenn Rowan, co-owner of Lifecycle in Milford, helped present why bike stores should be declared essential businesses.

“We worked very hard in documenting our essential services,” Ms. Rowan said. “People forget how many people only use bicycles for transportation. Particularly in the town of Milford with the Perdue chicken processing plant, or the Sea Watch clams plant, there’s a lot of factory workers who are bicycle-only. There was a sense of anxiety among them at first.”

According to Bike Delaware the other downstate bike shops still open are 302 Bicycles in Milton, Bike Line with locations in Dover and Middletown, Dave’s Road Bikes in Dover, Lewes Cycle Sports in Lewes and Seagreen Bicycle in Rehoboth. Most are offering delivery for newly purchased bikes and curbside pickup for repairs.

Ben Jones works on a bike at Lifecycle in Milford. (Courtesy of Lifecycle)

With reduced DART bus services during the pandemic and concerns of being able to practice social-distancing, there has been a higher demand for used bikes. While gas prices have been going down, factory workers and hospitality workers are still turning to bicycles to help save money on gas, said Bike Delaware executive director James Wilson in a thank-you letter to Gov. John Carney posted on Bike Delaware’s website last month.

“Delaware’s small, independent bicycle shops (while taking extraordinary counter-measures to enforce social distancing and keep all of their employees and customers safe) have seen exploding demand in the first two weeks of March, especially for repairs and the sale of used bicycles,” Mr. Wilson said. “As Delawareans face extraordinary economic uncertainty, they are realizing that low-cost transportation security may become as important to their families in the weeks and months ahead as food security.”

Lifecycle, co-owned by Ms. Rowan and her husband Ben Jones, doesn’t just handle bicycles.

Ms. Rowan said it is the only bike shop in Delaware which has the ability to repair wheelchairs. It also offers repairs on wheels for farm equipment.

“It was really important that we were open,” Ms. Rowan said. “It took less than 24 hours for the governor to reverse his decision and we’re very proud of that. By Gov. Carney saying that, people can see, ‘Hey, this is a great tool for us.’ It has enabled our community to see all the services we provide.”

“I did feel really confident,” she added. “Delaware is continually ranked in the top-five of bike-friendly states. DelDOT has a bike division that is very active. So Delaware is definitely bench-marking as a place to come and ride.”

Lifecycle began prepping for possible restrictions in early March, said Ms. Rowan.

All community events and group riders were canceled on March 12. On March 16, it introduced full isolation precautions which meant all sales and services would be contact-free.

Ms. Rowan was a health care worker for 26 years and drew on her experiences to make sure the shop met all Center for Disease Control guidelines.

“We were watching a lot of the data of COVID-19 in Italy and how the independent shops managed it,” Ms. Rowan said. “We realized we needed to make a hearty plan that would help our no-contact sales, promote care for our clients and keep our community safe.”

Masks are required for all bike shops if shoppers are in the store. Stores have been bleaching down each product before and after it comes into contact with customers.

With all the questions and hardships posed by COVID-19, Ms. Rowan is glad the bikers of Delaware are able to keep riding.

“It’s a very easy way to get back-and-forth to work for grocery workers, factory workers and hospitality workers,” Ms. Rowan said. “Not only that, but it’s a great tool to exercise, to get peace and happiness while remaining socially distant.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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