Central District e-bike showroom Electric Lady shutting down

Alex Kostelnik is getting out of the e-bike biz

One of the more future-looking retail ventures in the area is calling it quits. Here is why Electric Lady, the Central District e-bike shop in a building part of the wave of new development at 23rd and Union, is going out of business.

“(T)he business is doing well financially, but he is not enjoying the work needed to navigate what he sees as an unreliable industry where companies start up, go under, fire staff and get bought constantly,” the Seattle Bike Blog writes aboutowner Alex Kostelnik’s decision.

But Kostelnik tells SBB he was also having trouble connecting with his customers:

“They’re first time riders, but they’re not first time riders that are stepping up to the plate to hear about the community or join the community. They’re sort of strange outsider, know-it-all lonely people who aren’t really part of our community, and I don’t know where to begin with them.”

It’s not all sour grapes. Kostelnik will continue to run 20/20 Cycles just up the E Union hill and plans to include some electric bike models in his inventory.

The bike entrepreneur and partners opened the Hendrix-inspired Electric Lady in The Central building in spring of 2016 as a showroom for cargo “city trekking” bikes designed to carry commuters, and families, and sometimes more than a 100 pounds of stuff plus a rider. The new bikes carried price tags ranging from $3,000 to $6,500 and also had gear to help riders on a more limited budget create DIY trekking machines. “I don’t want to be Banana Republic,” Kostelnik told CHS about his plans for the shop.

 

SUBSCRIBE TO CHS: Summer brings busy days! Subscribers help pay for the writers and photographers who provide CHS's daily news coverage. We need to get our numbers back up to pay the bills! Join TODAY to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment. Why support CHS? More here.


Electric Lady’s closure comes as the area around 23rd and Union is seeing another wave of change around its neighborhood and business community. Earl’s Cuts and Style just moved temporarily into The Central as Midtown Center is readied for demolition.

Later this year, Earl’s will move to the corner of 24th and Union where the Liberty Bank Building will open as a six-story, 115-unit affordable housing development on the land once home to the region’s first Black-owned bank. That Brown Girl Cooks will also be part of the mix as the development has emphasized recruitment of Black-owned businesses.

Some small businesses at Midtown — and the U.S. Post Office — haven’t yet found new homes.

Developer Lake Union Partners is preparing Midtown for a major new development that will create a set of seven-story apartment buildings with 429 apartment units, including around 125 affordable housing units allocated for households earning between $40,000 and $65,000 per year or 60% to 85% of area-median income (AMI) built as part of both the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program and the Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program (MFTE). Regional pharmacy chain Bartell Drugs is planned to occupy the large retail space on the corner of 23rd and Union with a mix of smaller, more neighborhood focused retail and restaurant spaces surrounding the inner square.

Another Lake Union Partners project is The East Union mixed-use building on the northwest corner of 23rd and Union. It is preparing to welcome the area’s largest new retail investment in the “opening soon” New Seasons grocery market.

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

31 thoughts on “Central District e-bike showroom Electric Lady shutting down

  1. ““They’re first time riders, but they’re not first time riders that are stepping up to the plate to hear about the community or join the community.”
    Bicycling will only return to being a mainstream commuting option when the bicycle, as a machine, returns to being regarded as simply a machine, and not part of a folk movement. I am aware of the social changes have historically been brought about by bicycles (eg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloomers_(clothing)#Bloomers_and_bicycles ).

    My father carried me around on a bike seat when I was a toddler (I’m 70 now) without having to be part of a “community”. Look at old photos and newsreels: cyclists leaving factories in droves of thousands. (or Holland, or Denmark, or China today).

    • Hi Andrew

      Agreed 100%

      That part of my interview comes across wrong to many people- whoops! Anyway, see the SBB comments section if you want to, in the original article- I made an earnest attempt to elaborate/focus.

      I am trying to communicate a description of what retailing and “E-Tailing” has become.

      It’s about all of us, I’m not pointing fingers or narrowing things to only a “Folk” thing.

      As for that, “Folk” is where I came from, but I’m part of a wider movement and I understand that, as you so well describe!

    • Hello Heidi, I’m a 30 year vetran of retail. So I like it- but if you really are asking, non-rhetorically, why I am in retail, see my other bike shop- 20/20 Cycle! Cheers, Alex

  2. As a former bicycle mechanic of 4 years, unfortunately, he is pretty spot on with the majority of the ebike crowd. With that said, I am by no means against ebikes as they allow a wide range of riders to get back on the bike.

  3. I love 20/20 Cycles and I’m sorry to hear that Electric Lady is closing up shop. Hope that the Central and other new residential projects can continue to host creative enterprises from the community.

    • Thanks Ryan- we’re working on several local, diverse prospects for future tenants in my space as I type!

      LUP actually seeks out local non-corporate businesses as much as possible- this is a real, palpable contribution they make to the community.

    • LOL. Keep the mudflap, it will be a cool collectable some day. Hang it up with a torn black and red Sawant poster from the district’s failed socialist experiment.

      • Hi Lothar Zogg

        My father was ex-USAF- as well as being a commander in the Czech Air Force before he defected and came to the USA seeking freedom. He kept, as souvenirs, mostly friendships and skills as a pilot of P-51s and T-6 Texans, for he loved flying so much.

        He also could not help getting involved in huge projects restoring “lost cause” airplanes up at Paine Field. He was addicted to it!

        I’d much rather talk shop about the service- which reminds me of my beloved father- than throw mud at each other.

        I bet we actually have a lot in common.

        Just a thought.

    • Hello Electric Lady customer with no name.

      Your “ex” mud flap is kind of like a flag, isn’t it!

      We can change them like choosing a pennant- to suit which team we feel we belong to.

      I guess I do that too- in this, you and I have a mutual need.

      Perhaps some day we will talk again- without the impersonal, anonymous, web-based detachment.

      Neutral ground, perhaps- Squirrel Chops? The invitation is sincere!

    • Retail is always a mixed bag, but there’s always that promise of connecting with a customer when you actually care about it, when you are not a employee annoyed with the owner of the business, but actually are the owner- and someone who really is involved in his/her/their community.

  4. Many excuses why they can’t sell luxury bikes. Small market for 4k + bikes. Seen this one coming.. go back to your roots of used bikes and bike repair. You’ll connect better with them peeps.

    • Hi Southsound22

      It really did pay the bills but I understand the negative feeling you got from the article. It’s been a nutty 3 years trying to sell more upscale product with a philosophy more leaning towards being practical and actually not promoting under-consuming! That’s the part that did not work- the part where I strive to do more with my business than pomp product into the community.

      It’s meant as a not a jab at you!

  5. It seems to me that he is blaming his business failure on his customers, instead of on himself. I doubt very much that the business was “doing well financially.”

    • Hi Bob

      I don’t know you, that’s the thing about blog comment sections sometimes- so I can’t exactly sit down with you and share my P&L spreadsheet. I guess you’ll have to take my “success” part on faith.

      Anyway, there are more delicate issues, more closely tied with yours and my direct community, that were purposely left out.

      So what you read was what it was. Bike business insiders, all of whom are either directly or peripherally known to me, are contacting me privately to share their agreement on a lot of the critical stuff I said- and they will not post here because they have jobs to keep.

      Anyway, I was the guy crazy enough to be critical- but I can. Call it an “exit interview”!

      • Hi “Neighbor”

        It’s not left out, it’s in the comments section of the Seattle Bike Blog article.

        The delicate issues are indeed still pertinent, not hidden, and solidly addressed. Perhaps you just missed them?

        I’m happy to address those issues further at any time.

        If that’s really what you want to do, too, then by all means let’s do it!

      • I’m supposed to go googling for another site’s interview to find information relevant to this one? My time is more valuable than that. If it was important to this story, it should have been included in this story.

      • Sorry Bob, I did not write the article, it’s not a personal manifesto that I dictated. Tom at the SBB prints what he sees most pertinent, and that may differ from what I “thought” I said during the interview.

        Tom is a good guy, does a good job, has his own angle, and thatis his perogative.

        I love what TOm does, who he is, and I have been an acquaintance of his for many years. In short, I respect him.

        That respect includes allowing him attitude to print what he sees fit.

        If you cant tell by now, and things being what they are in the age of the WWW, I am not evading anything, I’ve been trying to tell you that, and you can address this beef of yours with me any time- if you are sincere in getting to the bottom of things, and not just sort “armchair flaming” me.

        What you and I are tangled up in right now is part of what the comment section is all about. It’s the part where people delve into the article above- at least ideally it is.

        On a good day.

        On a bad day, it looks something like the round and around you and I are doing right now.

        Here is my comment – the one we’re going back and forth about- that is part of the SBB comments section.

        “I’m referring to the new climate- that has taken me by surprise.

        It should sound familiar to you in one way or the other. I’ll try to describe it. It’s hard to describe- but it’s worth a try.

        More than half of my customers at Electric Lady are first time riders- they’re just getting interested (again) in cycling. It’s wonderful in and of itself! And I am a heartfelt cycling evangelist- I’ve never owned a car, & I have biked Seattle for over 40 years. I love to share this knowledge.

        But what’s interesting is that these folks are possessed by their computers. And I think they are confusing two things: talking about cycling in their social media group, (where they are bombarded with targeted advertising) and actually doing it- actually having experience- these are fundamentally two different things.

        This disconnect that is happening with the consumer is palpable- it is understandable. I believe people are scared- worried they will not be able to continue to consume like they are used to. And consuming equals freedom, it equals democracy, right? Purchase power with the median and below median income folks is at an all time low.

        And the web can fully surround you- in a virtual world that is also watching and listening to you. It promises to allow you to continue hoarding cheap goods, if you will.. That’s the hook. But the catch is that you are being wrapped in a web- you are being infiltrated- and your fears/needs are being manipulated. I am affected by this just as much as you.

        When you sit at your computer long enough, with paypal “locked, loaded and ready to go”- watching ads, drone videos of happy cyclists who just over-consumed a whole slew of bike gear, etc. etc.- It all combines to make the perfect storm. And sooner or later we will click that mouse, right? We will find ourselves next-day shipping something to ourselves.

        OK now picture me with my little shop- I am not virtual. I don’t crowd fund. I don’t make promises I can’t keep. And so I became the guy with the hard hitting news- the guy who is bumming everyone’s high- my shop is a reality check for these poor pilgrims/refugees.

        “No, the bike you bought online is actually very poorly made.” “No, there will be no support from who sold it to you.” “No, it will not last. It might not even work right out of the box.” And: “No, we can’t fix it for you cheap- the cheap part was your purchase. The company that sold that crappy bike to you does not care about you in the least.”

        So here I was greeting this person at the shop- (and remember I do have sympathy) listening and sharing what I have to offer- but the exchange sometimes does not take.

        Surprise, surprise!

        And in these situations, more often than not, the customer is flying blind yet dispensing instructions on what I should do. I don’t think they mean to be this way on purpose, it’s just that in the times we are in right now, people are kind of drunk and in a daze, wanting someone to tell them they did the right thing. Deep down they know the score- but they want others to validate their needs- and in the end it basically looks like hoarding. The consumers who are bleary eyed from e-consuming- It gets weird a lot- In this situation we can not connect.

        It’s sad, these are weird times- I do not believe we appreciate the extent to how profoundly all of this has already changed. But I have a front row seat.”

  6. I’m just generalizing but…

    The demographics/culture of ebike buyers have little overlap with the traditional cycle community. Ebike buyers tend to be older, less physically active/able, more into tech and less interested in joining a large community as opposed to just being able to get out and be active. Ebike buyer are probably more akin to people who buy home exercise equipment as opposed to traditional “serious” cyclers who are more similar to snowboarders or backbackers.

    As someone 40+, a bit techy and limited by a bum back, I probably fit the ebike rider profile. I’d like to be able to bike on more hills than I can currently, so I’ve looked into ebikes. Many cycle stores seem to grudging sell ebikes, and you get the feeling that they would rather not be selling them or dealing with their typical buyers. They’d rather be selling “real” bikes. A lot of “serious” bikers feel like ebikes are fake and “cheating.” So it’s not exactly as if the traditional cycling community has welcomed ebike riders with open arms.

    That’s OK, I guess, but I wonder why someone would knowingly open an ebike store if they would rather be working with the traditional bike community as opposed to those of us who are more interested in ebikes?

    • Hello “ebike shopper”

      I love e-bikes, I ride one myself, I am 51 years old and have bad knees (I need E-Assist), and I must be giving off the wrong impression to you!

      It’s not a “traditional” bike community I’m looking for, here is what I am indeed looking for: it’s a customer that has not been completely swallowed up by their computer.

      Who has their ears and their heart open to learning about how to best approach getting an E-Bike. A good solution might surprise you. You might need less than you thought!

      It will probably be a bad idea to buy one online. Worse yet, buy one from a “fake” retail outlet that is pummeling everyone with local shop-killing, poorly build, dangerous e-bikes.

      The cheap E-Bikes rely on real shops like mine to kind of do CPR on them- because they start falling apart right away. And yet these cheap retailers are killing local, independent shops- it’s like lighting your own wheat on fire. It’s an unsustainable strategy.

      So you can see that they are hear to make a fast buck.

      What happens a lot, is that customers come in my shop with their minds already made up- entirely based on what they saw (rad power advertisements) and what the read (social media) online.

      That is where the difficulty lies. As for myself, I am in fact an “old guy who needs an e-bike to get around.”

      So in short, we have a lot in common!

      My shop is still open, BTW, and I have over 20 bikes left- good ones- at 20% off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.