Around Town Bicycles sees demand skyrocket

WILKES-BARRE — For Around Town Bicycles, sales skyrocketed during the pandemic.

The issue, however, was maintaining inventory, especially parts.

Owner Rich Jones spoke with a reporter Thursday afternoon after the unique situation he and his shop found themselves in — and still do.

“Everyone wanted a bike ’cause no one could work. They couldn’t do any team sports and they were alone at home,” Jones said. “So, everyone wanted to go outside. In May of 2020, we were selling at four or five bikes a day.”

He went on to explain that the industry couldn’t keep up and ran out of bikes after a few months.

“The demand is still there,” Jones said, “but the inventory has not rebounded.”

He gave the example of a customer who needed a part for his bike, which Jones ordered nine months ago, and is currently due on April 20.

Jones explained that “99% of all bicycles, pretty much, and all parts come from China and Asia,” and those areas still haven’t recovered from COVID-19. Be it worker shortages or even the high demand for raw materials to be able to make the parts, like aluminum for frames, it’s a multi-tiered shortage that has still not caught up.

“It’s part of the supply chain. But in this instance, demand has skyrocketed and prices see an increase of 25 to 30% on bikes (and parts),” Jones said.

He joked that the times were beneficial to sales, given the rate at which bikes were flying off the shelves. “I mean we did good business. It only took 15 years to have a good year,” he remarked, referring to Around Town’s opening in 2004, and the uptick in buys during the inital phases of the pandemic.

Since those initial phases of the pandemic, Around Town Bicycles has gotten to work with the Diamond City Partnership’s College Ambassador Program.

Speaking of the DCP, Jones said, “They took care of me. They’re actually involved. They’re involved in helping, and I’m now working with Wilkes University.”

Specifically, students from Wilkes University’s Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship are currently working to redesign the Around Town Bicycles website.

Overseen by Intern Director Charles Pierce, who holds an MBA and a BBA from Wilkes and Executive in Residence, and Army veteran Gerald Ephault, the center offers numerous services to burdgeoning entrepreneurs and established businesses alike.

And Jones had high praise for the team that’s working on the website. He said, “One of the graduate students, Hayden Hernandez, he’s sort of their project manager, and he’s freaking on the ball, man.” Jones went on to explain that Hernandez and his team keep him updated and informed throughout the entire process, and that the vision has been very clear.

“I’m not accustomed to that level of information,” Jones admitted.

The final project then, should be quite exceptional.

But this is just another example of groups in the city working together. Jones and his business are there to help folks get outside, maintain health and an active lifestyle and become a part of something. The center and the DCP are there ensuring that business owners like Jones are able to provide their services at the highest level of quality and satisfaction.

And while the shortage of bikes and parts remains to be a problem, Jones is working through it, with shop technician Lee Curry of West Pittston on board for the last decade, serving customers who then become friends.

Jones admits that his business is seasonal, and they’ve been around long enough to know that. With that in mind, he did mention how nice it would be to see folks return to office work downtown, offering a much-needed jumpstart to other businesses, like restaurants, that truly thrive off of having those several thousand workers around looking for lunch or a coffee.

“I’m sad that there’s not as many people working downtown. I feel bad for other businesses, you know, that rely on people that work here,” Jones said.

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