Local store sees ‘bicycle boom’ | News, Sports, Jobs

ABOVE: Larry Vogel works on a Trek Electra bike while his dog, Mr. B, sniffs inside the Bicycle Shoppe at Fairmont. Vogel has occupied the space since 1981.

FAIRMONT– In the few beautiful days we’ve had so far this spring, walkers and cyclists have been commonplace in the city as people look forward to getting outside after a long winter indoors. Chances are that many of the bikes you saw were purchased or serviced at Fairmont’s Bicycle Shoppe. Owner Larry Vogel has sold or serviced bikes to hundreds of locals and non-locals in his 50 years in business.

The Bicycle Shoppe, one of Fairmont’s unique businesses, is located at 505 Lake Ave. since 1981. However, Vogel’s interest in bicycles began long before that.

A native of the area, Vogel began his career as a music teacher in Redwood Falls. He cycled to school every day.

“After school, children would come up to me and say, ‘Mr. Vogel, can you help me fix my bike? And I said, no, I’m taking my bikes to the Twin Cities for that,” said Vogel.

When spring arrived, Vogel said he started going on Sunday afternoon bike rides. What started as a small group of children who joined grew to 25 and a few parents and then to a large group of around 60 students and 10 parents. They were going 15 to 20 miles on Sunday.

The students kept asking Vogel for help with their bikes, so he started doing what he could and learned more along the way.

However, a teacher friend from Vogel’s persuaded him to quit his teaching job in 1972 to embark on a cross-country bicycle trip with the intention of going to British Columbia. Although they never made it to British Columbia, Vogel did eventually make it to Italy around this time. There, he bought a bicycle so he could get around easily.

“I asked if maybe I could buy nine more bikes to take home and sell. I wasn’t planning on opening a bike shop at that time,” said Vogel.

Ten bikes arrived on a slow boat from Italy. Vogel was in an Army Reserve band at the time, so his father, who was a farmer, drove a truck to Chicago to get them off the ship.

When Vogel was back at Fairmont, he started selling the foreign bikes from a friend’s garage. He didn’t need to advertise because he said people knew he biked around town and he knew about bikes.

“The following spring I found a place to sell the bikes downtown, which was the old Gamble store,” said Vogel.

After the second or third year there, Vogel said the building next door experienced a fire. In the middle of the night, so he had to move all his bikes to an old church he owned on the corner of 4th Street and Prairie Street in Fairmont. .

He sold bikes there for a few more years before the Schwinn bike company approached him and asked if he would carry their bikes. At that time, Vogel only sold imported bicycles. However, Schwinn wanted Vogel to move into another building.

He bought the current building and started selling bikes in 1981. In all those years, Vogel said there have been highs and lows, but there have been two booms. The first was in the early 70s when he got into the bike business because there was an oil embargo so a lot of people chose to ride bikes instead of to wait for gas.

“The second big bike boom was Covid-19”, said Vogel.

In March 2020, everyone was staying indoors, but as businesses closed and children learned online, people started spending more time outside when the weather was nice.

As demand for bicycles increased, manufacturers could not keep up.

“In about a month, all the bikes that anyone could afford were gone, and in two or three months, the bikes that no one could afford were gone,” said Vogel.

Now, Vogel sells almost strictly Trek bikes and Trek’s Electra line of e-bikes, which it started selling about six years ago.

“Initially, when Trek approached me, I said I wasn’t interested (in e-bikes). I said the bikes were for exercising and going here and there,” said Vogel.

However, he took one for a ride and over time became a big fan of e-bikes, like everyone else.

“If I had 1,000 e-bikes right now, I would sell them all,” said Vogel.

Although he doesn’t have 1,000, he has more inventory than ever before. In winter, Vogel received a shipment of 150 bikes from Trek, including 45 e-bikes. He had been waiting for the bikes for almost two years, but it took the manufacturer just as long to produce and deliver the bikes.

The many large boxes fill much of the Bicycle Shoppe. Although the store has a great view of Lake Sisseton, it’s only 900 square feet, and Vogel said Trek recommends a minimum of 4,000 square feet for a store.

Now Vogel said Trek’s warehouse was empty.

For the past 50 years, Vogel has operated primarily as a sole proprietorship, with occasional part-time help. Now he plans to retire, but faces a dilemma. He has received several offers from bike shops in cities to buy all of his inventory as there is a demand for it and the bikes available are limited.

“I want to keep the store at the Fairmont, but if I sell my inventory, what do I sell? Trek doesn’t have enough bikes to fill a shop and they won’t have any until late next year. I wish a store would stay in Fairmont, and so would Trek,” said Vogel.

When Vogel started, there were no bike shops around. Even now, the nearest Trek dealership is 120 miles away in Sioux Falls. The only other Trek bike shops in the area are in Mankato and Marshall.

Bikes are sold at stores like Walmart, but it can be difficult to find someone with the knowledge to service them. Vogel pointed out that if he was selling the business, the person had to know a lot about bikes and not be someone who was just looking to own a business.

The local store has established a good reputation. Vogel brings people from parts of Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin and other parts of the state to buy him a bike or have him work on a bike.

“I probably equate selling and repairing bikes,” said Vogel.

He said he thinks word of mouth among bike enthusiasts has led to the traffic he gets at his bike shop.

“I’ve sold enough bikes in the area that it’s nice that someone fixes all the bikes I’ve sold here,” said Vogel.

It could be a case of “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone”, although Vogel hopes not. Anyone with a serious interest in the store is encouraged to contact Vogel at 507-238-1092.

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