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How A Milwaukee Bike Shop Is Meeting The Pandemic-Fueled Demand For Bicycles

Emerys Cycling Triathlon & Fitness has been selling bikes in Milwaukee since 1963. Brent Emery, son of founders Marilyn and Richard, now co-owns the business with his brother Ben. The company has stores in Milwaukee and Menomonee Falls.

Brent Emery says demand for bikes has been high since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This is something he  says he expected when the pandemic first began.

“Anytime there’s really troubled times in any country around the world, bicycles become absolutely essential and when you start taking a look at something that affects the entire world, my gut feeling was that people were going to need bicycles, not just want bicycles,” he says.

So, Emerys took a risk and started "ordering anything and everything in just unprecedented numbers," while all the big bicycle companies were panicking and cutting their projections and inventory production. 

"We ordered so much that it would've been pretty catastrophic if we were wrong," Emery admits. "It was more order first and figure out where we're even going to store the stuff second."

"We ordered so much that it would've been pretty catastrophic if we were wrong. It was more order first and figure out where we're even going to store the stuff second."

As the pandemic progressed, Emery had conversations with people who said they were relying on their bikes more heavily — because of safety concerns around public transportation and the mental health benefits that come with riding a bike.

While other bike shops had reduced their stock in fear of less demand, Emerys was stocked and selling, at their highest point, 10 bikes a day. Some customers have driven up to 500 miles to their store and they have also shipped bikes across the country. 

“It caught most dealers everywhere so off guard, there was an absence of product available. And if you walked into the average bike shop, it was literally like walking into a going out of business sale,” he notes.

But getting bicycles now is a difficult task as the pandemic has interrupted many supply chains. Emerys has purchased bikes that won’t arrive until Aug. 2022.

“Bicycles that we’re ordering today, most of them are nine to 18 months out by the time they’ll actually hit our door,” he explains. “They are predicting severe shortages in our industry through the middle of 2022 at a bare minimum and it looks likely that it’s gonna be into 2023.”

Emery says he is using any space he can to stock up on bikes. “At this point we’re literally putting bikes in every cubic foot we can put anywhere you can imagine,” he says.

Credit Emery's Cycling Triathlon & Fitness
During the coronavirus pandemic, most Emerys employees have had to take some work home with them to keep up with demand.

While floor space at the stores are filled to capacity with bikes while still meeting social distancing guidelines, Emery says all of his staff and even some extra hired help are assembling bikes at their homes on a regular basis. 

Despite having to cut daily hours and close an extra day of the store due to losing staff who weren't able to work during the pandemic due to personal risk, Emery says he's shocked at what they've been able to do.

"I don't know how we did it. It was extraordinary what we pulled off and what our crew pulled off," he says.

Emery notes that the oil crisis of 1973 was the only other time in the history of their family business that saw an unprecedented bike boom. "This is very similar, but I think longer lasting," he says.

With no indication of things slowing down, Emery says his main takeaway of this time is not the historical demand for bikes, but being grateful for your health and your team.

"Really I have such a great value, even more than we've ever had, for the people that work with us," he says. "It's almost apologetic to see what we've put them through this last year — the unbelievable amount of work, the pace, the stress of it. We couldn't have done it without them."

Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.