Bicycle Habitat Leaving Lafayette Street 40 Years After its Founding

Posted on: July 12th, 2018 at 5:00 am by

Photo: Google Maps

On the occasion of its fortieth year, Bicycle Habitat is amidst transition. A downsizing. Its foothold on Lafayette Street is coming loose, and the flagship location at 250 Lafayette will shutter later this year.

It’s been a tumultuous few years in SoHo for the mom-and-pop retailer. Bicycle Habitat once occupied three storefronts along Lafayette Street, but a rent gouge (purported fourfold increase) at number 242-244, the space in which it was founded, forced owner Charlie McCorkell to consolidate operations up the block. Now, another reckoning.

“The final straw was an ADA renovation required by the [building] owner,” McCorkell told us in an email. The landlord apparently handled the bill, but the persistent scaffolding situation deterred and impeded traffic flow.

“Two years of scaffolding on either side, a changing demographic, citibike all played a roll,” he said.

Bicycle Habitat still maintains other locations in Chelsea and Brooklyn, all of which remain open for business.

McCorkell and his then-girlfriend-now-wife, Esta Bigler, opened the original Bicycle Habitat with Brooklynite Hal Ruzal in 1978, a time when SoHo was transitioning from its function as industrial zone. The company first moved into 250 Lafayette Street back in 2010 with the intention to create a “high-end performance cycling store serving road and mountain cyclists and apparel.”

More context from the website:

Bicycle Habitat – 244 Lafayette St It was always fun but rarely easy to run a store in New York City. After opening in 1978, the reaction was good, and the shop broke even in the first year. Still, it was obvious that Lafayette Street was not going to be a hub of bicycle life.

Unlike the SoHo of today, with stores, salons and restaurants from corner to corner, at the time, Bicycle Habitat was one of only two retail stores on the block. The street was awash with junkies going to and from the methadone clinic; the buildings were fairly empty, the manufacturing was leaving, and the “white plight” had gripped the city. Urban planners had predicted a future where the city was a job center and the residents were the poor who could not afford the suburbs – ooooh, were they wrong!  Bicycle Habitat was part of the new wave that would remake SoHo.

By the middle of 1979, it was obvious that the Lafayette Street store would not provide the financial security necessary to keep business flourishing.  In attempts to broaden their clientele, Hal and Charlie turned to Debby Sauer (now married to Frances Bollag), another TA volunteer, and opened a second store in Chelsea at 21st St. and 7th Ave.  For a while, it was easy going, but like many fantasies, obstacles eventually arise.  By 1982, things were changing – chlidren were being born and safety and mugging was a major concern.

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