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Business booms in New York, but COVID-19 restrictions could cool things down

NEW YORK (BRAIN) — Bike use in New York City is on the upswing due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and retailers are seeing the positive effects. However, they are bracing for a possible shelter-in-place order that could curtail retail shopping or even mandate store closures. And, like retailers everywhere, they are anticipating tough times ahead as the economy appears headed toward a major slowdown.

New York bike counters are registering increased bike traffic over key bridges, and the Citi Bike share system is seeing usage increase of 50% or more. New York is increasingly accepting of bikes as a key part of the transportation system. On Twitter, Mayor Bill Di Blasio has urged residents to ride or walk to work during the COVID-19 outbreak. With restaurants closed except for pick-up and delivery orders, Di Blasio has told police to stop enforcing a ban on the use of throttle e-bikes by food delivery workers. Advocates are urging the city to take further steps to accomodate the increased bike traffic.

“We’re an important part of the whole system right now and we’re doing our best to keep it going” — Charlie McCorkell

At Bicycle Habitat, which has three locations in the city, sales are way up, said owner Charlie McCorkell. He said one location’s sales were up 100% and another locations was up 75% since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’ve been pretty busy; we’re an important part of the whole system right now and we’re doing our best to keep it going,” McCorkell told BRAIN on Wednesday. 

“We’re seeing sales in two categories: the transportation category and the other is what I call ‘normalizing your children’s experience in a time of crisis.’ We’re selling a lot of kids bikes. I think parents are trying to give kids a good experience as opposed to everything sucks out there,” he said.

He said his stores also are selling a lot accessories and service. “We’re seeing a lot more bikes that have been sitting in a garage for 25 years,” he said.

Bicycle Habitat is closing its stores for an hour each afternoon to clean, and plans to limit the number of customers allowed into its stores this weekend, he said. Although New York City schools are closed, McCorkell said only one store employee has had child care challenges that have affected her ability to work regular hours. 

In the long run, McCorkell expects a significant slow down as layoffs drag down the economy. “I’m hoping there’s safety nets for staff. We will extend an umbrella (to employees) as far as we can, as long as we can,” he said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signaled Tuesday that he was considering a shelter in place order for the city, perhaps similar to the one enacted in the San Francisco Bay Area this week. However, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo later said that the mayor doesn’t have that authority. 

In any case, activists in New York are reaching out to officials to make that case that bike shops and bike riding are essential and should be be exempt from any closure orders.

In Philadelphia, which on Tuesday ordered all non-essential businesses to close, included bike shops on a list of essential businesses.

In the Bay Area, some stores are remaining open. Santa Clara County, one of the six Bay Area counties that declared the shelter in place order, has clarified that bike shops are essential, and advocates and retailers are working to clarify that in the other counties.  

Photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash

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