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Industry rallies in support of two bike shops destroyed by Maui wildfire

Published August 16, 2023

By Sara Stover

LAHAINA, Hawaii (BRAIN) — West Maui Cycles owner Jamie Boote awoke the morning of Aug. 9 to find the power out and winds whipping in his neighborhood. He and his wife, Dawn, went to the shop to secure loose objects before heading home through a tangle of downed power lines. That would be the last time the Bootes saw their bike shop.

A catastrophic wildfire engulfed the historic oceanfront town here on the island of Maui. More than 100 people so far have died, and hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed, including Boote's shop and nearby Maui Sunriders Bike Co.

"At the time, people had only two ways to evacuate town. With so many live wires down, there was no way to get out of the southern end," said Boote, speaking to BRAIN from Kahului, Maui. "When I noticed a wall of smoke and fire about a mile away, I told my wife and two sons 'We leave now!' We grabbed the cat and dog and fled our home, leaving everything behind except the clothes we were wearing. Fortunately, the utility company had just pushed the lines out of the way. Otherwise, we might not have made it."

Later, the Bootes received news that West Maui Cycles, Dawn's hair salon, and the family's home were all destroyed.

Escape by e-bike

Less than a mile away, mechanic and salesman Derek McNamara was working at Maui Sunriders Bike Co. when he called co-owner Jeff Robertson with news that the fire was rapidly spreading through Lahaina.

"Derek was able to escape just in time via an e-bike, which was a godsend as he was able to bypass all the traffic and ride to Wailuku. He got out just in time, because a gas station near the shop blew up around 4 p.m.," Robertson said. "It was a very difficult ride for Derek, watching the shop he called home become engulfed in black smoke right before his eyes, then almost being blown off his bike by 60 to 80 mph winds.

Maui Sunriders Bike Co. after the fire."We built that shop last fall to give our Maui community a spectacular sales, service, and rental shop that was comparable to a pro-level shop on the mainland. We put months of blood, sweat, and tears into this and completely remodeled an old historic building one block from Front Street in the heart of downtown Lahaina."

Maui Sunriders Bike Co.'s Lahaina shop, one of three locations, was one of Hawaii's largest bike shops at 5,000 square feet. "It was our newest shop and had only been open for eight months. This has been devastating for us."

While Boote and Robertson reported that their shops' employees, family members, and pets were not harmed, many are without homes and employment, including McNamara, who had to relocate.

Employees in need

"We have 16 employees that we would like to take care of, keeping as many on payroll as possible by merging them into our other two shops," Robertson said. "As travel is not advised for the foreseeable future, this is impacting our other locations, with the refunds and cancellations pouring in for the bike tour and rental side of our business. Not to mention the loss of tools, inventory, vintage bikes, and customers' bikes that were in the shop when it burned. ... The impacts financially right now aren't even fathomable."

Robertson estimates the store will have to pay back about $75,000 in refunds in the coming weeks. While insurance should help recover some of the losses, he said that it will not cover the hundreds of thousands invested in the new building.

"Derek was able to escape just in time via an e-bike, which was a godsend as he was able to bypass all the traffic and ride to Wailuku. He got out just in time, because a gas station near the shop blew up around 4 p.m."

Robertson was quick to point out how supportive Giant, Trek Bikes, Santa Cruz Bicycles, and local members of the industry have been in the aftermath. The team at West Maui Cycles also received support from friends and colleagues over the past week. Aaron "Moose" Reichert of Makawao, the owner of Krank Cycles, which is over 30 miles away from Lahaina, gave two bikes to the children of West Maui Cycles' mechanic Mattias Nyquist.

The gift of bikes helps kids

"When someone suffers in Hawaii, we all feel it. In the bike industry, we help others by getting people on bikes," said Reichert, whose own business was damaged by a fire in January. "That's why we provided a family who had lost everything and was living in someone else's home with bicycles. The parents shared that their children had been overwhelmed since the fire. However, within days of receiving the bikes, they noticed a remarkable change. ... The bikes were the first step towards reclaiming a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos."

A West Maui Cycles employee and kids with bikes donated by  Krank Cycles.

With help from supporters of the shop who started a GoFundMe page, Reichert rebuilt his bike rental company. Now he's hoping to show that same support to West Maui Cycles and Maui Sunriders Bike Co.

"We understand the devastation," Reichert said. "When my shop caught on fire, Maui lifted us up. Jamie of West Maui Cycles came over with supplies for a pop-up shop. ... during a monsoon! Now his shop is gone, and we're all ready to help the West Maui Cycles' ohana (family), as well as the other families. We've given bikes to around 25 adults and kids impacted by the fires so far."

"Hawaii has really rallied to help us and the rest of the West Maui Cycles' staff," said Boote of the support that he and his family experienced while visiting Hilo on Hawaii Island's east side over the weekend.

On the west side of the island, Farran Hart, manager of Bike Works Kona, has been busy organizing the Ride for Lahaina, a community bike ride that the shop is hosting on Sunday.

"Although Maui is a different island, it is a short distance away, and we are only separated by an oceanic channel," said Hart, who said that the ride was an idea rooted in the desire to offer support, help, and love to Lahaina. "With everything they are going through, reaching out to the shops to see what we could do made sense to me. I had a simple vision of just getting people in Kona to do a short ride that was inclusive and supportive."

"The cycling community can feel small at times, but it is much larger than people realize. In tough times, coming together as ohana and showing compassion, tenderness, and aloha is what makes us humans."

Friends establish GoFundMe campaigns

Hart is using the ride to promote GoFundMe campaigns associated with West Maui Cycles and Maui Sunriders Bike Co. that will be used to assist with immediate and essential needs, such as temporary housing, clothing, and food.

"It is a devastating time for us and the local bike community. We are very thankful our entire team is safe," said Robertson, adding that funds raised will help his two smaller shops stay in business as well as help cover employees' personal items, cars, bikes, and other belongings lost in the fire along with relocation assistance.

Maui Sunriders Bike Co. before the fire."My parents opened West Maui Cycles in 1994 and I bought it in 2012, but I don't know the future for the store," said Boote, who added that the future of the Lahaina location is uncertain.

"It is going to be a long road ahead, but our passion for biking and love for Maui has never been stronger," Robertson said. "We will push forward and will rebuild in time, as bike transportation will always be important for every community. Once we get over some hurdles, we're going to put Maui on the mountain biking map. We're going to make sure that something good rises from the ashes."

Trails closed but survive

While there are some downed trees in Makawao Forest and the reserve's mountain biking trails were closed as a safety precaution, the trails were not impacted by the Lahaina fire nor by any of the Maui brush fires. The West Maui Mountain trails also were unaffected but might have damage from downed trees. "I'm sure there might be some down trees, but with no cell (service), we have not been able to contact some of the bike community over there," Robertson said.

The cause of the fire remains unclear, but it has been linked to a series of Maui brush fires attributed to dry and windy conditions from a strong high-pressure area to the north, a convergence of high winds from Hurricane Dora to the south, and a summer drought.

Sara Stover is based in Kona, Hawaii.

West Maui Cycles after the fire.

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