Easy Street Recumbents

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ESR north TexasIt’s not as rainy a weekend in Austin as expected, though the College Station Senior Games, farther to the rainy east of us, have been cancelled due to weather concerns. This would have traditionally been the weekend of our big annual Heart of Texas Recumbent Rally, but it would have been nerve-wracking going into it with the weather so uncertain. It isn’t cold, but everything is pretty wet.

I decided back in November to put the rally on hold this year because we’d launched the effort to get a second shop opened in Fort Worth, so I’m taking this occasion to write an update on that work. This may tax your attention span. It definitely taxes mine!  On the surface little is visible, but the reality is that this has consumed me. My thanks to Micah and Laurie for keeping up with trends in the market and helping with the customers, and Rebecca for keeping up the administrative stuff.

I don’t see anything as certain until a lease is signed, and you’ll hear me crowing about that when it happens. But up till now there has been lots of driving back and forth, visiting places, rounding up contractors for estimates, writing descriptions of work, calling various city inspectors, and intense conversations with real estate agents and/or property owners. This has all been instructive and character building.  :^/  I’m reminded in some ways of when I was a greenhorn bike dealer, with customers occasionally explaining the basics of bike maintenance to me. Maybe not so mortifying, but instructive.

Micah communing with Plan A

Over the past few months I’ve come up with 5 possible scenarios for a Ft. Worth shop. The first place I found I thought was going to be it, but it was the first case of dealing with a property owner whose place was in shambles and who thought it was my responsibility to fix his property for the benefit of paying him rent. I just couldn’t abide that. Is this unrealistic? That was “plan A,” in a retail strip center well situated by a decently long, but not the longest, trail. I still miss that place, just not the guy who arrived in a chauffeured Rolls Royce to tell me he had no money.

Lots of work needed on Plan D, but lots of potential

I spent a few weeks working seriously on “plan D,” a space I really liked, with great highway access and trail access, though again the trail wasn’t the longest and it was broken often by neighborhood streets. This was a case of a “light industrial” zoned auto garage that the city had re-zoned commercial. The owner had to put a lot of money into it to make it rentable and seemed agreeable to doing so. After my experience with “plan A” I was adamant about his needing to get it up to code. He had the vague way of talking, but when I finally got a firm number on what was needed to bring it up to code he couldn’t avoid the matter and finally told me I’d need to replace his HVAC system, update the electrical and insulate all the walls. The next time I do this I’ll be better at getting to the truth of things sooner.

Back on the trail, I looked back at “plan B,” which was another light industrial space well situated next to great trail. I knew I’d have to put money into fixing it up without much help from the land owner. After all the hoops I jumped through on plan D I got right to things like calling the city inspectors, only to learn that I couldn’t put a bike shop in a place zoned “manufacturing-light.” I got great encouragement from the chair of the local planning commission to get the zoning changed, but considering that the property owner (whom I’d never met) needed to sign off on it and I’d certainly end up like the owner of plan D, needing to upgrade everything, I pushed plan B to the back burner. Thinking about the owner’s leasing agent pushing the lease on me a few weeks ago, who certainly knew I couldn’t even do business there once a lease was signed, sure gives me the creeps.

Real estate agents confer while Micah communes with Plan C

So as of this last week, I began to run the numbers and make the calls on “plan C,” which is a nice retail center in a ritzy northern suburb. It is close to great trail, perhaps the best.  This trail is long with lots of trees, but I’ve a 200 foot gap to it from a quiet corner at the end of the loading dock, meaning I will need to get into the trail-building business to connect my customers to it. The city is enthusiastic and the Parks director sent me a grant application to get the city to cover 33-50% of the cost of it. A list of contractors is due this coming week. I don’t yet have assurance from the board of the corporation that owns the shopping center that I can run trail across part of their property. Most of the trail would cross undeveloped parkland, and I don’t have the city council’s approval for that yet, but I’m optimistic with the Parks director so happy about it. As you might guess, the space is expensive compared to the others, but still less than I pay in Austin. I’d get a generous tenant improvement allowance, though I wouldn’t be able to spend it on my trail (makes no sense to me). I’m busy sketching out a floor plan, ready to share it with the fire marshal.

If I get the go-ahead from the management, I expect I’ll take the plunge. I’ve got a lot of confidence in the product and in Micah to make thing work. But if this falls through then there is “plan E,” which is to move all the goods into Micah’s house, get him a van, and work by appointment, at your location if necessary, or at some trail head, and work at low overhead (though with much less cash flow) until the right place comes along. I’m hoping for a more conventional approach than that. I’d like to get past this stage, not prolong it.

Me getting prettier every day

That’s it. These past few months have been some of the hardest in my life. Having done this bike-wizard thing for over 20 years now, I don’t mind having a different project consuming me. Responding to all the requests to get more Easy Streets out in the countryside has just been the impetus to this work, but I’ve been there in spirit already. It all means spending all my time doing stuff I’m not experienced at, generally feeling like a bit of a fool, spinning my wheels, working inefficiently. I’m slow, but I’m stubborn once I commit, no surprise there.

Next weekend is what I’d hoped would be “grand opening” weekend, and it certainly won’t be happening then. But it will at some point. More news to come.

Early March update:  The shopping center approved the trail plan and it is written into the “letter of intent” document they sent. I’m waiting on contractors’ bids and a civil engineer’s report, as required by the city, and the trail proposal goes before their Parks Board this week.  

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