Some businesses see pandemic bump

Bike shops, garden centers and food sellers doing well

Greg Neis, co-owner of Farmstead Bike Shop
Greg Neis, co-owner of Farmstead Bike Shop, has been busy fixing old rides and outfitting new ones during the coronavirus pandemic as more people turn to cycling for transportation, recreation and exercise. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

Many of the rides wheeled into Farmstead Bike Shop in East Harriet this year for service have been in dire need of some lube and love.

“We’re literally fixing bikes that haven’t been ridden in 15 years,” Farmstead co-owner Greg Neis said with a laugh.

The pandemic has been devastating for the economy and placed great hardships on many local shops, but some business types, like bike shops and food vendors, have seen a COVID-related boost.

Farmstead has been repairing more bikes. Tangletown Gardens has sold more houseplants. And Lowry Hill Meats has been selling plenty of premium cuts.

“It was crazy early on because our phones would ring nonstop,” Scott Endres, co-owner of Tangletown Gardens and Wise Acre Eatery, said of the start of the pandemic.

The callers wanted advice on how to best care for the houseplants they now found themselves staring at all day. Many wanted new plants, too, to brighten up their living space or make that change in the garden they’d been daydreaming about.

“They look at their homes and their outdoor spaces as a bit of a refuge,” Endres said. Tangletown Gardens has been busy in the pandemic, and Endres said he considers himself very lucky. Inside the shop, staff have spread out the aisles a bit more. Outside in the garden center, it can feel like a normal day. Community Service Agriculture (CSA) memberships rose in 2020, and the landscaping business has been doing well, too.

Food vendors have also seen an uptick in business with fewer people able to dine out and many choosing to up their game in the kitchen.

“I think folks are more focused on local sustainable products and smaller shops — so we have been fortunate,” said Erik Sather of Lowry Hill Meats.

When the stay-at-home order began, keeping up with people’s stock-up orders was a challenge, but things have calmed down and now they see customers ordering adventurous cuts and trying new recipes.

To adjust to COVID, the butcher shop has limited its hours and is taking orders via text. Having an updated, easy-to-understand website for ordering has been key, Sather said. The shop has tried to order strategically so that orders come in on fewer days and workers can get some much-needed physical and mental time off during a stressful time in Minneapolis. “Curbside and delivery has proven to work well for us — and customers have been very respectful adapting,” Sather said, though he misses the in-person interactions with customers.

Challenges remain

Linden Hills-based Humble Nut Butter has the advantage of not having its own store but has dealt with some market volatility during COVID that has made it harder to reach new grocers and distributors, according to co-founder John Waller. Because it’s an inclusive employer that has many workers with disabilities who can’t work during the pandemic, production has also declined a bit. Still, Humble Nut Butter was able to secure a distribution agreement with Whole Foods during the pandemic and is now available at all Minnesota locations, including off Excelsior Boulevard in Southwest. Its online sales have grown as well.

“With all the people cooking at home, there are a lot of uses in our products,” Waller said.

Its biggest challenge as a newer product is that it’s harder for customers to get samples.

Mechanic Harvey Wilhelm
Mechanic Harvey Wilhelm works on a repair at Farmstead Bike Shop in East Harriet. Local bike shops have been busy with service requests this year, but have also been challenged by a shortage in parts due to pandemic-driven slowdowns in production and shipping. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

At Farmstead, bike sales were up at the start of the pandemic and service jobs were streaming in at a very high rate. As an essential business, the bike shop was able to stay open during the stay-at-home order and moved as many of its service exchanges outside as possible.

But the increase in demand has also been coupled with a reduction in supply, due to many bike parts coming from Asia, where plant closures limited supply in the winter, Neis said. Farmstead and other shops are running out of common parts for repairs and unable to restock as quickly as normal, often having to wait on items to finish repairs.

Still, with more people seeking to spend time outdoors for recreation, exercise and transportation, Neis is grateful to be in an industry better suited for the pandemic than many.

“The bike is the perfect escape pod for social distancing,” Neis said.