As Virginia adapts to life with COVID-19, many local businesses are scrambling to operate in creative ways in an effort to stay open. But one small business owner says that he may stand to gain some customers, thanks to social distancing. WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi reports.
Ben Wyse can often be seen riding his bike around Harrisonburg, a trailer in tow, decked out with various tools and replacement parts. It’s the mobile setup for Wyse Cycles, his bike repair business.
BEN WYSE: I’ve been working as a bike mechanic for almost 20 years. I’ve been self-employed for 11.
Wyse rides to customers who live relatively close to him, and has other clients who come to the bike shop at his house – some of them all the way from West Virginia.
WYSE: So it’s not just a local business but primarily my customers are nearby. And I primarily do repair work, but I do sell used bikes and I sell a few new bikes on occasion.
He’s had to make a few adjustments due to COVID-19 – he now only works on bikes outside someone’s home, rather than going into their garage. Some days he has to wait for good weather to respond to a repair call. And if a customer comes to visit his shop, they have to stand outside, too.
WYSE: For me, it’s relatively easy to adapt in ways that I think protect both me and my customers, and we sort of are following best practices. I kind of feel bad for folks in our community who don’t have that same degree of flexibility, or people who have lost their livelihood. Both people who are working entry-level jobs at Starbucks, and I have two friends that are pilots so it hits … both at the entry level of the market and people with sort of high level professions are losing their livelihood.
Normally at this time of year, Wyse Cycles would see an influx of college students getting their bikes fixed up for the spring. But with both JMU and EMU having moved to online instruction, and most of the students leaving town, that source of income has dried up. But Wyse said he did just gain one new customer who used to ride the bus, and now wants to bike instead of taking public transportation.
WYSE: The good news is, when we have fewer things to do, you know, you can’t go to the movies, or you can’t go to a music concert or a festival, but you can still go ride your bike! So in some ways, I think bike shops and bike businesses like mine might be a little protected from some of the dropoff, but it’s anyone’s guess how this is going to evolve going forward.