New York (AFP)
When America’s oldest bicycle store opened, Spanish flu ravaged New York. More than a century later, it helps residents work and stay healthy, as the bicycle plays a critical role during the coronavirus pandemic.
While almost all stores were ordered to close for the closure of the Big Apple’s COVID-19, bike shops like Bellitte Bicycles were considered essential businesses and allowed to stay open.
They have proven to be a boon for New Yorkers who have to go to hospitals, migrant workers delivering take-out food and trapped residents desperate to flee their cramped apartments for lonely exercise.
“Business is good, but it’s also about serving the community,” said co-owner Sal Bellitte, whose grandfather opened the store in the Jamaican neighborhood of Queens in 1918.
While locals avoid buses and subways due to social isolation and take advantage of streets with no regular traffic, bicycle shops are one of the few businesses that do a decent business.
“Business is booming,” said Paris Correa, 29, who recently started working at Bike Stop, another Queens branch. “I was hired because the owner knew it was going to be crazy. “
Residents pick up old bikes or buy new bikes to make up for canceled Pilates classes and closed gyms while the drivers stop to fix the brakes or gears.
Bellitte Bicycles is the oldest permanently owned bicycle store in the United States, according to Bellitte, who is the third generation of her family to own the store.
– “Safety rope” –
It opened the year that an influenza pandemic killed an estimated 30,000 New Yorkers, operated during the Great Depression, World War II, the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc in 2012.
“We have seen everything. The coronavirus pandemic is like closing the loop, “Bellitte, 56, told AFP, adding that he thought it was the worst crisis yet” because of the uncertainty. “
For many workers, the closure of New York, which Governor Andrew Cuomo extended until April 29, forced them to rely on a bicycle for the first time.
Oliver Bucknor – 50, from the Caribbean island of Jamaica, lost his job as a van driver when the deadly epidemic began to spread across the city early last month.
He bought an old bike from his owner for $ 250 and brought it to Bellitte for a tune-up before embarking on a new job of delivering food.
“A bicycle is a lifeline for many people,” he told AFP. “It allows me to continue making a living. “
Other residents are using Citi Bikes, New York’s popular bike-sharing system, which the government has temporarily made available to healthcare workers for free.
Emily Rogers, a 27-year-old social worker, started cycling for half an hour to and from the public hospital where she works on a Citi bike after worrying about using the subway.
“It’s nice to be outside a bit and not feel guilty,” said Rogers to AFP, adding that she will likely stick to cycling once New York reopens.
Citi Bike has extended the cleaning of its bikes. Staff at popular docking stations disinfect two-wheelers when returned by customers.
Displacement increased as the virus became a concern, but declined after residents were ordered to work from home later in March.
During the lockout, the most popular platforms have moved from outside bus and train stations to nearby hospitals, suggesting that medical staff and loved ones visiting COVID-19 patients rely on Citi Bikes.
– Lonely riders –
“This is not normal traffic,” a Citi Bikes spokesperson told AFP.
For other New Yorkers, cycling is a way to stay healthy and kill the boredom of a lockout lasting several weeks, even if it means riding without friends.
“It’s good for your body, it’s good for your soul, it’s good for your mind,” said Peter Storey, 64, president of the New York Cycle Club.
Robin Lester-Kenton, 41, had to take his sons – aged seven and five – out of the house and took advantage of an empty basketball court in Brooklyn to teach them how to ride a bicycle.
“There is nothing like a magical open space at the moment,” she told AFP.
But gloom and gloom also abound, as the coronavirus paralyzes touring businesses, as operations were halted due to the ban on social gatherings and the absence of tourists.
John McKee, owner of Brooklyn Giro tours, estimates that the crisis made his business go back two years.
“Last year we were all celebrating and going out for steak dinners. This year, it’s like we’re all trying to find food stamps, “he said.
Back at Bellitte Bicycles, Bellitte says it will stay open as long as they stay healthy themselves.
“If one of our guys shows symptoms, we will have to close. “
© 2020 AFP