Friday, June 6, 2008

Peddling bikes a way of life for Mount Airy business owner

Black promotes environmentally friendly practices

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Bill Ryan⁄The Gazette
‘‘The bicycle shops provide a good, clean profit and provide people a good lifetime investment,” says Larry Black, owner of Mt. Airy Bicycles and College Park Bicycles.
Though his name may suggest otherwise, Larry Black lives life as green as he can.

The founder and owner of Mt. Airy Bicycles, which opened in 1991, sells and services bicycles for a living and devotes much of his energy to promoting the healthful, non-polluting aspects of cycling — and recycling — as much as possible.

‘‘What I like to do is not see how much margin I can garner, but how much enlightenment I can provide to people,” said Black, 57, who started his business with a shop in College Park in 1979.

‘‘The bicycle shops provide a good, clean profit and provide people a good lifetime investment,” he said. ‘‘With a good bike, the more you own it, the longer you use it, the cost per use goes down, you get more value — not like a car, which will depreciate over time — and it’s better for the environment.”

Black, who lives in Woodbine with his wife, Linda, has his stores listed on the National Green Pages, an organization and Web site that promotes environmentally friendly businesses.

His stores were honored earlier this year when the magazine Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, at the Bicycle Leadership Conference in January in San Diego, gave awards with a ‘‘first-ever emphasis on companies making a concerted effort to go green.”

Mt. Airy Bicycles⁄College Park Bicycles was the winner in the multiple-store category. A statement from the magazine said, ‘‘Larry Black, owner of Mt. Airy Bicycles and College Park Bicycles in Maryland, started thinking green ... when he opened his first shop. By 1976, he was using solar power to heat the water. He now purchases wind credits to offset his businesses’ energy use. He recycles tires, patches and inner tubes, uses recycled paper, buys hybrid company vehicles and tries to stock products from sustainable-minded brands.”

Black said in a statement, ‘‘We would like to share some of our operations so we can encourage other business to help with their conservation, sustainability, and ecological concerns. We are not only saving the planet, we are saving quite a bit of money and passing on a better environment for all to enjoy.”

Despite the surge in gasoline prices over the last year, Black said he has not noticed a big increase in people switching to bicycles for transportation.

‘‘Not yet,” said Black, who sells bikes ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to thousands. ‘‘We’ve seen a little upturn, but not that big. And the gas crises in 1971 and 1979 didn’t put people on bikes. I think we should see an upturn, at least a modest one, once people discover all the healthy things about getting on bikes.”

Chris and Theresa Richardson, who run The Bike Doctor in Waldorf, have had the same experience.

‘‘We’re seeing a little bit of people coming in saying, ‘I’m going to park my car and buy a bike” to commute to work, Chris Richardson said. ‘‘Where we are, these are not the best roads to go into D.C. on the bike, but I have had a couple people come and they’ve calculated with gas prices how much they will save by buying a $400 or $500 bike. I’ve sold a few bikes because of that, but nothing major yet.”

Year-round devotion

The Blacks’ devotion to biking extends to their off-hours. They donate time to many weekend bike events.

‘‘We don’t take vacations. We go to places where people can use our skills, and provide mechanical assistance,” Black said. ‘‘Like recently, we volunteered at a tandem bicycle rally where 75 couples came out to ride. In June we’re doing a ride for multiple sclerosis and a diabetes ride [the Tour de Cure on June 7 in Columbia]. We do several of those all year.”

Black said he grew up in Hyattsville. ‘‘I had a 10-speed when I was 10, then got into cars and motors like other kids.” But he worked in bike shops in the area, and started getting into bikes more and more as a way of life.

‘‘I was a recovering motorhead then,” he said, ‘‘and the bicycle thing appealed to me. I was into alternatives. It was hip, it was novel. I started thinking it was crazy to waste things, to burn gas.”

He turned an empty Laundromat into a bike shop in College Park for his first store: Black said he now has five employees at the College Park store and four in Mount Airy.

He wouldn’t disclose specific revenue figures for his shops but said the College Park store ‘‘is seven figures plus ... the Mount Airy store is approaching that.”

Black, whose Mount Airy shop was voted the region’s ‘‘Outstanding Bike Shop” by the League of American Bicyclists, said his goal is ‘‘just getting people to realize bicycles can be a device that combines health, economic value and fun. And of course there’s the ecology aspect of it.”