City Paper is not for tourists
BicycleSPACE is officially “in the big leagues.”
So says Erik Kugler, the popular bike shop’s co-owner. After being forced out of its former space on 7th Street NW to make way for an office development, the store moved into a temporary location at an old Burger King storefront at 5th and G streets NW and found a new permanent home around the corner at 440 K St. NW, which it plans to open in May. Then, in January, the store announced a bold expansion, to the burgeoning development at the former Hecht Company warehouse on a heretofore desolate stretch of New York Avenue NE.
Today, Kugler and co. made another big move, announcing that they’ll open their largest store in Adams Morgan.
The store, scheduled to open in April, will occupy 6,405 square feet at 2424 18th St. NW, described by the owners as an “unimaginably large shop.” It takes over a space that’s been vacant for years, since the closure of Slaviya and previously Leftbank. The building is owned by Douglas Development, which also owns the Hecht property, as well as the 7th Street store that BicycleSPACE had to leave so Douglas could proceed with its office development.
“When they heard our plans for how we want to have a lot more capacity, their ears perked up,” Kugler says of Douglas. “It’s like they hold all the cards, and they started laying them on the table, and we had to say no to all the things we couldn’t bite into.”
The BicycleSPACE owners have fielded lots of pitches for new stores, says Kugler. “The people who own a lot of real estate in town really like what we do and what we bring to the community,” he says. “They see us as an ideal fit for the neighborhoods where they own properties.”
Even with cycling on the rise in the District, the proliferation of bike shops might seem out of proportion. But Kugler, citing the Office of Planning’s projections of continued strong population growth, says he’s simply reading the tea leaves—-or maybe the pond lillies.
“In a pond, when the pond lillies go in, they double every day, and in a month the pond is full,” he says. “But what that means is, a day before the month is up, it’s only half full. And two days before, it’s only a quarter full. We’re seeing bicycle use double and double and double, and we’re not far from filling the pond.”
Each of the new stores, beyond the K Street one replacing the nearby 7th Street shop, presents a challenge. The Hecht development, in Ivy City, is cut off from much of the city by railroad tracks, a highway-like stretch of New York Avenue, and a cemetery. Bikers in that part of town are few. As a result, the BicycleSPACE there will have to rely on Maryland commuters stopping by with their cars. “Don’t forget, there’s over 70,000 people who pass by there driving in and out of the city every day,” says Kugler. It’s a different model from the downtown store, where most visitors come by bike or foot.
But Kugler’s also hopeful that infrastructure improvements will make Ivy City more of a cycling destination. The city is planning a bike trail along New York Avenue, and Kugler hopes cyclists will come through the area en route to the newly bike-accessible Arboretum. The Hecht development also aims to be something of a fitness draw; there’s a Planet Fitness, and Kugler says the BicycleSPACE will be located between a Bikram Yoga studio and a CrossFit studio.
In Adams Morgan, the challenge isn’t bringing cyclists to the neighborhood; it’s that they’re already there. Around the corner from the coming BicycleSPACE is City Bikes, which has been in Adams Morgan since 1988. The competition could make it tough for BicycleSPACE to justify the enormous store—-or the arrival of the popular shop could hurt City Bikes’ business.
But Kugler thinks the two stores are sufficiently different to allow for co-existence. “I think we approach it from two different angles,” he says. “We’re who we are. We’re BicycleSPACE: the wood floors, the best mechanics in the region, welcoming the Cragislist bikes as well as selling a unique urban product mix, where City Bikes is selling Giant and has a more mass-market appeal.”
With car capacity downtown pretty maxed out and cycling infrastructure much cheaper than public transit infrastructure, Kugler sees a major expansion in the future for cycling in D.C., and possibly for BicycleSPACE as well. But for 2015, three new stores is going to be it.
“We’ve decided that that’s the maximum we could do this year,” says Kugler. “The locations are exactly what we wanted. We’re going to hunker down this year, work on execution, and next year, we’ve already got four opportunities in front of us.”
Images from the BicycleSPACE website