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Don Boswell says he can’t even put into words how the bicycle world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Boswell, owner of Don’s Bicycle Sales & Service, opened the Wilson store in 1980 and has never seen as much interest in bicycling as he has during the pandemic.
“I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Boswell said. “And I remember the craze during the 1970s when 10-speed bikes came out. They were new, sleek and unusual, but they weren’t even a minuscule blip on the screen compared to what is happening now.”
“There have been days I was working 14 hours a day,” Boswell continued. “It’s everything — sales, repairs, accessories. We are selling everything from kids’ bikes to senior citizen tricycles. There is no way in an article that you can understand how the bicycle business has been affected in the last six weeks. You’d have to stand in the store for two or three days to see the magnitude.”
Boswell says that business started to crank up during the third week of March, when people realized that bicycling met all the requirements for quarantine rules with regards to social distancing. It was also a way for parents to get kids out of the house and a recourse for people who can’t work out at gyms that are closed.
“I’ve even been selling gym owners personal bicycles,” Boswell laughed.
Record sales of new bicycles are causing a shortage of bikes in stores across the country, so people are pulling out their old bicycles, many of which need repairs. And that has caused a shortage of bicycle parts and a backup of bikes in shops that need work.
“We used to be able to repair a bike and get it back to the customer within 48 hours,” said Brian Penny, a part-time employee at Don’s. “Now it’s more like 10 days. And that’s if we can even get parts.”
“We’ve got people dragging bikes out of barns that haven’t been used in 30 or 40 years,” Boswell said. “They are getting them fixed because they can’t find new bikes to buy. Early on it was clear that we were selling stuff at uncanny numbers. You could see that stockpiles were zeroing out early on, but no one saw the magnitude of the problem.”
Lori and Kelly Thompson were among the lucky ones who decided early in the pandemic that buying bicycles for the family would be a good investment and were able to purchase four new bicycles.
“We knew we didn’t want our boys sitting in the house during the entire pandemic and at the time had no idea how long this was going to go on, and it was important to our family that we all got out and exercised,” Lori Thompson said. “At that moment I knew we wanted to get some good quality bikes to learn on and hopefully one day go trail riding when parks opened up. So we headed to Don’s Bicycle Shop because we wanted to support local businesses.
“Cooper (age 8) had never expressed any interest nor did we have the time to teach him. The pandemic allowed us to slow down and do this.”
Thompson said that fresh air and exercise aren’t the only benefits they have noticed while riding with their children.
“What we didn’t expect was all the fun of riding together and the different adventures and conversations that would be had,” Thompson said. “We have all had a tumble or two, but we taught them to get back up on their bikes again. Being able to ride with them, we have been able to teach them life lessons as well. My boys love riding around in the old mall parking lot and hearing about the “golden days” my husband and I had in the mall’s arcade, Tony’s Pizza, or just hanging out with our friends. But they only ride over there with parental supervision.”
‘BICYCLES WERE KING’
Boswell hopes that the bicycle craze continues even after the pandemic subsides, just from the standpoint of getting people outside.
“So many things have taken up our time these days,” Boswell said. “The pie of life has been cut into so many pieces. But the bike business now is like Christmas used to be, back when bicycles were king. Bikes used to be the No. 1 item bought for kids, but not anymore. I hope some of these people will keep riding after this is all over. This is the same pastime that was the favorite for so long. There is no reason for not doing it.”
Boswell is hopeful that the city’s greenway project will afford more safe space for families to ride in town.
“The No. 1 problem in this business is having nowhere to ride in town because of all the traffic,” Boswell said. “Riders are leaving Wilson to go to Clayton to ride the greenways. If they want to raise the quality of life in Wilson, they need to bring greenways here. That’s what parents are looking for when looking for a place to raise their kids.”
Michelle Brown, senior planner with the city’s Planning & Community Revitalization department, says that plans are moving forward to start construction of a greenway here in town.
“There is a 1/4-mile section of the Hominy Creek Greenway existing through Recreation Park along Ripley Road, and we were recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the N.C. Recreational Train Program to go towards working on the next section that runs from Ripley Road to Williams Day Camp,” Brown said. “We hope to break ground this late summer.”
The city was also awarded Environmental Enhancement Grant funds to be used toward the engineering component of the section of Hominy Creek Greenway, roughly between Raleigh Road and Goldsboro Street to help with storm water and help to lessen flooding downstream.