Another bike shop squeezed out of Silicon Valley

Calmar Cycles is closing shop to make way for an apartment complex/retail.

Calmar Cycles is closing shop to make way for an apartment complex/retail.

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.”

Calmar Cycles is selling all its inventory as it closes down.

Calmar Cycles is selling all its inventory as it closes down.

2 Responses to “Another bike shop squeezed out of Silicon Valley”

  1. Jay Says:

    It feels sadly inevitable. I’m not happy that ECR is now becoming apartment row and I believe that the Santa Clara council is completely bought and paid for, but there’s just an incredible worldwide demand to live in this one geographical spot and no amount of NIMBYism or nostalgia is going to stop it–it seems…

    I’m old enough to remember most of my bicycle-related purchases occurring in shops such as the Outfitter and PA Bikes. Then mail order became prominent, but that still involved filling out and mailing order forms and writing checks and was a minor hassle and sometimes long wait–so mailorder was really just a supplement to retail shop purchases for a while.

    Over the past 20 years, I’m certain the ease of on-line ordering has encouraged me to spend far more on bike clothes and accouterments than otherwise would be the case. It is obviously impossible for a small shop to compete on any level with this. It almost began to feel like doing a charity or “good deed” to buy chains, tires, socks, jerseys locally in order to support a shop.

    Bikes are low margin, so that leaves services. Thing is, as mediocre as my wrench skills are, you don’t really need to do that much to keep a bike running well. Keep the drivetrain clean, change the chain and cogs, resurface brake pads, clean rims, etc. Not that hard. About the only thing, I don’t feel competent at would be wheel truing and tensioning and I’ve found a Seattle shop that is essentially a service-oriented one (with a token amount of parts for sale) to do that for me.

  2. Raymond Hosler Says:

    Jay, that sums it up well. The one bright spot will be ebikes breathing life into shops that participate. Still, there’s the issue of accessories. I learned to build wheels and I’m good enough that they last a long, long time. I’m not saying they’re perfect, but close enough.

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