Resist the urge to go online, and shop local, support small businesses
This is the first December in nearly 20 years that I will not be working in a bike shop during the holidays. What I miss most about my old job are the people. Over the years, I, like many other people who work in local bike shops, got to know my customers, some of whom are now my friends.
I helped cyclists – both experienced and novices – find the right bicycle, cycling tights, helmet, or jersey. And when a partner or friend of a customer would come in looking for the right gift, I could steer them to the ideal item.
That’s one of the great things about holiday shopping at your local bike shop. Instead of an algorithm-generated ad in your social media feed telling you what to get, the staff at the gift receiver’s favorite shop may know just the thing for them. And if it’s not in stock, they may be able to order it from a supplier so that you have it in time for the holidays. Plus, you won’t have to decide where to have things shipped or wonder if the package will be left on your front step getting covered in snow or drenched in rain.
In my personal life, I much prefer interacting with humans than doing the Internet shopping that has overtaken the retail world. Yes, there are some things that one can only get online. But when it comes to shopping for bike gear, Alaska shops and their staffs know what works in our climate and with our trail conditions.
Most people who work in local shops love to ride bikes. They bicycle to and from work; they mountain bike; road bike; tour; or race. They have tried everything from the latest components to the new best chain lube. They have worked out challenges with chain lines and gear rack installations. They have customized bikes and designed or ordered the products that suit our climate.
Local shops also sponsor events. From races to fund-raisers, bike-to-work days, organized rides, demos and clinics, local shops bring people together to compete, learn, and have fun.
If local expertise and helpful interaction are not enough for you, consider the economy. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Alaska has been losing jobs. And not just in the energy sector. Retail jobs have decreased for the last few years, according to the state Department of Labor. A decrease in business means it’s harder for retailers to stock the things people want or need, and it’s harder to keep enough knowledgeable people on staff during busy seasons.
For Alaska bike businesses, the busy season is now year-round. But when consumers do their business online, we contribute to the decrease in local business. Often it is not even a matter of price difference. It’s just easier to click to order. And I get that. But next time you’re tempted to order a bike part or accessory online, first, see if it’s offered locally. Visit the local shop that carries the brand and buy or order it from them. While you’re there, stay and chat to find out what’s new in the local bike community, pick up some stocking stuffers, and breathe in the smell of hundreds of bicycle tires. OK, I miss that, too.