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Is Capitol Hill big enough for two bike shops just doors apart?
For the past three decades, there has been a bike shop at 709 Eighth St. SE. A neighborhood store, Capitol Hill Bikes, owned the shop for 10 years, until it downsized to another location less than a block away last year.
The old store stood vacant until recently, when the bike chain City Bikes expanded into the store. City Bikes has two larger locations in Adams Morgan and Chevy Chase, Md.
Denise D’Amour, who owns the smaller Capitol Hill Bikes, said she welcomes a little friendly competition. She’s confident that the two stores are distinct enough to attract different consumers, and her long-standing store has a base of devoted customers.
“We have a loyal Capitol Hill clientele, people who have been our customers for over 11 years,” she said. “We’ve built up a reputation.”
Still, she worries that people who aren’t aware of the situation will head to the old store — after all, the shop still sells bikes.
“It’s too soon to tell whether they’ll be good for business in terms of bringing more cyclists to Capitol Hill.”
That’s exactly what the larger City Bikes hopes to do. They don’t see their foray into the neighborhood as a competition. Instead, they hope the two neighboring shops will draw more cyclists into the area.
“We want this to be a location for bikes — the same situation they have in Georgetown, where there’s five bike shops right next to each other and they all get along just fine,” said Jeff Bloomfield, the general manager of City Bikes. “I think a lot of people want to paint it as a big rivalry, a competition, but it’s really not.”
In fact, when they moved in, Bloomfield introduced himself to D’Amour to be friendly. Still, both were quick to point out what sets them apart.
“A lot of our services are pretty similar — we just offer a little bit different selection,” Bloomfield said.
His shop also offers more experience than many bike stores. Bloomfield has been in the business for more than a decade, as have many of his co-workers.
“The nice thing about here is that we are a little bit more mature, a little bit older,” he said. “You don’t have a lot of issues cropping up where people don’t really know what they’re doing.”
D’Amour, who greets and helps customers nearly every day her shop is open, focuses on giving her customers a positive, energetic experience.
“What sets us apart is how we care for our customers,” D’Amour said, “not just from them, but from anybody. It’s the most important thing we can do.”
Her emphasis on the consumer experience paid off when the poor economy forced her shop to downsize last year. She offered memberships to local community members for a fee and used the funds to aid the shop’s transition. The new space has more room for the mechanics and a smaller sales floor.
“Our members got us through a time when we really needed their help and support,” she said. “The community really came through for us, and they’ve been awesome.”
Her involvement with the community also allowed D’Amour to reach out to Congress. She worked alongside Rep. Earl Blumenauer to promote cycling fitness.
“We enjoy good relationships with many of the bike shops in town because they are great advocates for the cause,” said Derek Schlickeisen, a spokesman for the Oregon Democrat. “With the increasing popularity of biking here in D.C., we are always happy to see more facilities that are serving cyclists.”
While the newly opened City Bikes hasn’t had the same opportunities to establish ties to any community, Congressional or otherwise, they have plans to do so.
“We want to reach out,” Bloomfield said. “I’d like to get a couple of group rides going. We’d like to get a morning ride going out, and we have a couple of guys looking to re-establish a Fort Dupont bike ride.”
Although it’s still too soon to tell how the shops will fare, customers don’t seem to be worried about the competition.
“We don’t really know this shop yet,” said Patrick Jackson, a local who’s been shopping at Capitol Hill Bikes for 10 years. He and his wife stopped at City Bikes to take a look around. “It’s nice to have this one here. I think there are definitely enough people to use it. From our experience, it’s a big biking neighborhood.”
No matter what the outcome, D’Amour said she couldn’t be happier.
“Retail is a tough way to earn a living, but there’s nothing better than owning a bike shop,” D’Amour said. “It’s just about making people smile. It’s about having fun. No matter how tough the business is, interacting with the customers is always a blast.”