NYC Velo

Local Bike Shop Hero
Nowadays many bike shop employees would be hard pressed to name the shops owner,  not so at NYC Velo. Andrew Crooks has always clocked long hours doing whatever needs to be done; taking inventory, working the register, wrenching and helping customers. That attention to detail is carried through his business as well.

The first thing you notice at NYC Velo is the custom cabinetry and the unique interior design. The shops have been  planned with a level of thought and care that is not often seen in a neighborhood bike store, no outlet-mall chromed circular clothing racks or pre-fabricated plastic here. Rather NYC Velo uses built in industrial display racks cleverly hung from the ceiling above custom wooden shelves through the center of the East Village shop. The smaller Hells Kitchen shop takes advantage of very high ceilings for its tiered racks and cabinets. The brands and products they carry have obviously been given a great deal of thought too, from a small and idiosyncratic clothing brands to their impressive selection of rarefied bike brands like Independent Fabrication, Parlee, and even hand painted Pegorettis. 

I spoke with Andrew about his expanding empire, he now has three shops (East Village at 64 2nd Ave and Hell’s Kitchen, 600 11th ave as well in Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester County) and how the business has changed in the past ten years.

Now that you have been in business for almost ten years what changes have you seen? 
Since we opened in 2005 many more bike shops have opened, and there is a worry among bike shop owners about this proliferation of shops – that the stores may not be growing at the same rate as the customer base. There is a limited amount of cyclist attention in the city for cycling. This is also true for cycling events and rides. If you bring some frame builders to speak or do an indoor race, well there are only so many events like that that people are interested in attending each year. So there is a competition for that attention. 

Is there something like a community of bike shop owners, do you often speak to other shop owners?
There is some cooperation between stores but at the ownership level there isn’t a lot of communication. If a store calls and is out of something we will typically sell it to them for the wholesale cost. In some markets that would never happen, but in NYC there is a certain amount of cooperation.

You came into the East Village with a shop that seemed very tailored for the neighborhood as well as the times, but things move quickly in NYC, have you had to rethink your approach? 
Since the recession hit at the end of 2008 the number of bikes sold annually have gone down, but the average price has gone up. Labor has become a larger percentage of our revenue stream but still a minority.  We are not a repair only shop, as some of the retail doomsday folks are predicting we will all become. When we opened, the bike lane on 2nd ave existed but it looked nothing like it does now. Since 2005 many more bike lanes have been established and the city’s cycling infrastructure has really matured.  For the first few years we did a lot of business with Brooklyn residents, but we have seen that decline with all the bike shops opening recently in Brooklyn.  Many of their needs are meet in their neighborhoods now so they will only make the trip when there is something we can provide them that their neighborhood shops cannot. 
What is do you think is your strength as a shop?
To me that answer starts in an emotional place.  We are all cyclists at NYC Velo. I’m a cyclist, I don’t race too much at this point but I still ride all the time and so does my staff. If you want to work here you have to be a cyclist period, which isn’t necessarily true in every shop. You have to have genuine enthusiasm for cycling – both the sport and the culture of cycling. This is something you can’t really fake and that sets us apart. That’s where it starts. I’m very involved with the shops, much more so than some bike shop owners – for better and for worse – and a core value is "well, if we were the customer, what would we want?" We focus on being conscientious, not wasting our customers’ time or making assumptions about them, keeping them informed, and carrying products that offer a good value proposition; excellent value but never cheap. 
Why expand to Westchester?
That shop, Hastings Velo, has been an interesting project. I was originally approached by my business partner (in the project), Eric, who is a long time East Village resident but crew up in Northern California.  He has close friendships 
with Andy Hampsten and Scott Nichol (founder of Ibis Cycles), among other notable bike industry folks.  He’s also a green developer who developed some environmentally responsible buildings in Hastings-on-Hudson (45 main street), just north of Yonkers. Initially I wasn’t sure we were a 
good fit. I didn’t have any experience with Suburban shops other than being a customer of them 25 years ago. I figured that the residents of Hastings didn’t need (and probably didn’t want) an East Village shop dropped in their town, they needed a shop that’s relevant to where they live and the types of riding they do. If they wanted to live in downtown Manhattan, they probably would, so Eric and I met and rode with a number of cyclists out there to help determine our approach. Eric had also spent the better part of a decade woking with people in the are on other projects, giving him an idea of the needs of the local cyclists. The shop is more family oriented and the average customer is a bit older, many of the cycling enthusiasts are also parents. Our GM lives in Hastings and is involved with the community everyday. But the core values of NYC Velo are still there and the people who work there take a lot of pride in what they do at Hastings Velo. I think our NYC customers would instantly feel the DNA of our shop there, albeit modified for the area.
How did you come to open this smaller shop at 11th and 45th?
Two and a half years ago the developer of building that houses the shop, Gotham Organization, approached me. At that time, the building (now containing over 1200 apartment units as well as shops and a food hall) was just a hole in the ground. They really wanted to have someone to run a bike concierge for their residents. As the ideas was further developed they realized that they wanted something more than a closet with a guy to hand you your bike. We realized that if someone’s storing the bike they may as well maintain it too.  Astutely, they realized that there was no money in just handling the bike anyway, so they gave me the opportunity to do what I do; bring a bike store into the space. So we have a space where we manage the residents’ bikes (which also houses our Service Department) and another space nearby for a relatively small bike store. The building is known as Gotham West and contains the Gotham West Market. The two shops are not that different (East Village and Hell’s Kitchen), we have learned a lot from the first time. The new shop is smaller but there are some things we can do there we cant do in the EV.  We have developed a more robust road bike rental program in response to conversations with the management team at the Rapha Cycle Club (in the Meatpacking District). The Cannibal (Beer & Butcher) is here too, as are a bunch of other business with cyclists as owners/managers/staff, so there is a real connection behind the scenes. Even Gotham Organizations President is a cyclist and he thinks that cycling is good business. Riding a bike to West 45th makes a lot of sense as the subway is a 10 minute walk and we’re a short block away from the Hudson River bike path. If you ride your bike to the market and you don’t want to park/lock it on the street, roll into the shop and hand it to us, we will take care of it for you.  The Bike Concierge doubles as our Service Department, meaning that we will be here working on bikes from 9am – 9pm (as early as 7am in the summer), making pick up and drop off of bikes for repair much more convenient than many other shops and reducing turnaround time. 


Benjamin Headbadge

Congrats on the new shops. Andrew is a big reason for the success of the shop. Great guy.


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Julien Nipple

I’m surprised it took this long to show NYC Velo some love. Great shop with varied interest in cycling!

skinny tire rider for the fat tire racing

Great shop with some exceptional employees- without a doubt my favorite shop…wished I lived a little closer though.

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