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Citi Bike Drove Me Out of Business, West Village Bike Shop Owner Says

By Danielle Tcholakian | November 20, 2014 11:31am
 George Bliss outside his bike shop on Charles Street.
George Bliss outside his bike shop on Charles Street.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

WEST VILLAGE — A bike shop on Charles Street is closing for good in December, and the owner says Citi Bike is to blame.

HUB Bicycles owner George Bliss has been peddling two-wheelers in the West Village for nine years. Business was booming in 2012, he said, but dropped 25 percent in 2013, when Citi Bike launched, and another 25 percent in 2014, he said.

"They surrounded us with those things," he said, referring to the Citi Bike stations dotting the area. "You know why? I built a bike culture in this neighborhood."

There are at least 14 Citi Bike stations in the West Village, according to the Citi Bike station map, and four of them are within three blocks of HUB.

Bliss has been selling, renting and repairing bikes out of a garage at 139 Charles St. for more than four years, and before that he was based in another garage a few blocks away at 73 Morton St. for five years.

He is credited in various reports with creating the city's pedicab business, and has designed a host of cycles meant for carrying objects and people, including pedicabs specially suited for transporting kids. He coined the term "critical mass," now the name of a worldwide group bicycling event, in a 1992 documentary about bike culture.

At HUB, Bliss sells used bikes for less than $200, while imported European ones go for $1,000 to $1,500. He lets people trade in their old bicycles to get a new one, or pay for purchases in installments. Bliss prides himself on advising customers honestly, not trying to sell fancy bicycles to someone who only needs a simple ride to get to and from work.

Before Citi Bike started, rentals were about 20 percent of HUB's business, but since then it has dropped to just 5 percent, and sales have fallen as well, he said.

"Believe me, if [Citi Bike] continues to grow, it's going to put a lot of stores out of business," he said.

Bliss said he understands the draw and convenience of Citi Bike, but when people decide not to own their own bike, he said, "they give up their identity."

NYC Bike Share, the operator of the Citi Bike program, released a statement saying that many Citi Bike members also own their own bikes.

"Citi Bike serves as a great entry point to bicycling and for some people it's the only the bike they'll use," NYC Bike Share said. "But we believe that many Citi Bikers will one day want their own bike for longer rides or just the pleasure of a lighter ride. We're growing the bicycling ecosystem in New York and there's plenty of room for us and great local bike shops."

The Department of Transportation released a statement saying Citi Bike is designed to "accommodate short trips between neighborhoods and help bridge gaps in the transit network."

"The numbers show biking in general continues to grow across the city," the statement continued, "and as its popularity grows, we believe that is an opportunity for businesses serving users, be it tourists looking for all-day rentals or New Yorkers wishing to purchase bikes and equipment."