NEW HAVEN, CT (BRAIN)—Less than a year after spinning off his popular Devil’s Gear Bike Shop near the Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut, owner Matthew Feiner sold off the inventory and closed the second shop two weeks ago.
Devil’s Gear II, as it was known, couldn’t survive the economic downturn.
“I’m not a business man,” Feiner admitted. “I’m just a bike rider who opened a bicycle shop in a town that really needed bike culture. I’m learning lessons as I go. This was definitely the biggest one.”
DG II opened back in March in a tiny 11’ by 14’ space located on New Haven’s artsy Audubon Street as a way for Feiner to capture business from nearby university students who were reluctant to walk the seven blocks to his main shop.
It was big enough for one employee to do on-the-spot tube and tire repair and tune-ups by appointment. The shop stocked only sundries like locks, fenders and racks.
“It was a money maker,” Feiner said. “It paid back its $7,000 start-up in three months.”
But, Feiner had made an agreement with his landlord, Yale University, that if the shop got too busy he’d move to a larger space. When that time came, Feiner upgraded to a space six times the size, and cost. His rent jumped from $280 per month to $1,800 per month. Plus, he hired two additional employees.
Things continued to go OK until Oct. 14, the apex of the nation’s financial meltdown.
“It was like night and day,” he said.
Business slowed way down and Feiner realized DG II wouldn’t be self-sufficient through the winter. In November he decided to close and held a 40 percent off sale the last four days the shop was open to clear out everything.
A New Haven native, Feiner opened Devil’s Gear in 1999 determined to bring the bike culture he’d experienced living in places like Austin, Texas, Boulder, Colorado, and Sante Fe, New Mexico to his home turf.
He sought to create a gathering space for his customers rather than just a store that sells bicycles. He built that atmosphere at Devil’s Gear by organizing clinics and group rides from the shop. He also sponsors a shop club and Yale Cycling Club, as well as a Special Olympics rider and a rider through the Best Buddies program. Feiner and Devil’s Gear grew to be well known in the local community for advocacy efforts, and have been the subject of numerous awards and write-ups in the local media.
Now, Feiner is concerned about the fate of the shop, which has also taken a hit from the economy and lower gas prices.
He’s slimmed down his costs for the season by cutting back on staff. Last winter he staffed four full-time employees; this year he’ll get by with two full-timers and a couple floaters.
He expects to be fine as long as the weather doesn’t get too bad and the economic situation doesn’t worsen, but if business slips he’s prepared to take further steps.
“At this point, I’ll do anything I need to do to stay open through the winter,” he said.