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Local bike shops shift gears as pandemic changes supply and demand

If it feels like the world is running out of bicycles, there is some truth to that.

An increased interest in the two-wheeled vehicles, combined with pandemic-related production and supply-chain disruptions, has brought about a shortage, leaving shops scrambling for inventory and customers paying more than they had planned to pedal this spring.

“Sales have been amazing,” Patty Clark, co-owner of Norm’s Ski and Bike Shop in Keene, said Tuesday, in between helping customers and making sales. “We have sold so many bikes. It’s been beyond our wildest imagination.”

Clark and her husband, Jaycee, have owned the business for 23 years.

Business has been brisk since late March, she said, and the store has sold out of entry-level and mid-price bikes. Sales for May were triple what they were the year before, she said.

“I just feel like this pandemic has brought people all the way from New Jersey to our shop and from all the states in between.”

While the business remained open for bicycle repairs during the coronavirus shutdown, its hours and retail sales were limited for much of the early spring.

The downside is now, when people come in to buy a bike, the store doesn’t have many to sell, Clark noted. Norm’s may get a couple bikes here and there over the next month, she said, but most won’t be available until the fall or December. That has created uncertainty for the rest of the season.

The business also has 140 bikes on back order and likely won’t get those until the fall as well, she said.

“The way production of bikes has been, we have to sit back, and we have to wait, which is very difficult to do since it’s mid-June,” she said. “The nice thing is people are bringing out the older bikes they have had in their cellars and sheds. Everyone is getting out and riding.”

In a normal year, Norm’s would put in its bike order during the fall to have the inventory delivered for the spring, Clark said. Then, the store would be reordering bikes throughout the season as demand required. This year, that isn’t an option.

“There is nothing to be ordered at this point,” she said.

As of early May, sales of children’s and BMX bikes in the United States were up more than 50 percent compared to the same time period in 2019, while sales of adult leisure bicycles had increased by 121 percent, according to The NPD Group, a market research firm. Further, the sales of trainers and rollers that allow road bikes to be used as stationary bikes went up 268 percent, the firm reported, and independent bike shops saw an increase of 20 percent in bike service and repair sales.

The Associated Press reported Sunday that the increase in bicycle sales during the pandemic has been caused by people looking for a transportation alternative to buses and subways, outlets for exercise during gym closures and activities for their children during the stay-at-home orders put in place to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Sales of electric-assist bikes or e-bikes, which were considered a niche part of the bicycle market until recently, have also benefited from the pandemic, according to the article. While a person riding an e-bike still has to pedal, the electric motor provides an extra boost of power.

Bike Magazine reported in April that the sudden closures of entertainment and recreational venues, such as gyms, malls, parks and theaters, left gaps that many people turned to cycling to fill.

Independent shops, many of them struggling in prior years, noted that the biggest growth in sales came from bikes in the $500 to $1,000 price range, the article states.

Tim Chock, an owner of the Brattleboro Bike Shop, said Tuesday he wouldn’t describe what he’s experiencing as a boom in sales, but it has been challenging to keep up inventory.

“Right now we have an interesting situation. I just had four entry-level-price mountain bikes delivered, and it’s exciting. Prior to 15 minutes ago, we had one mountain bike in the store,” he said.

However, there are four other bikes still on order, and he said he didn’t know when those would arrive.

About 90 percent of the bicycles sold in the U.S. come from China, and most production in that country is just starting back up after being shut down because of COVID-19, according to the Associated Press article.

The virus originated in China, specifically in Wuhan in the country’s Hubei province, in December 2019.

“Bicycles have always been global things,” Chock said.

For example, components like mountain-bike tires and gear systems have never been produced in the U.S., he said.

Because of the disruption caused by the pandemic, companies have bicycles that are otherwise ready but can’t be shipped because they’re missing parts, he explained.

Bruce Anderson, owner of Andy’s Cycle in Surry, attributes the shortage of bicycles and their parts more to supply than demand.

Because of the shutdowns in China, shipments of bicycles that would normally be arriving at shops this time of year to replenish inventory are not, he explained. Instead, those shipments will be arriving mid-summer.

Further complicating the situation on a national level, most bicycle importers in the U.S. have kept limited inventory since 2018 — an outcome of President Donald Trump’s order placing new tariffs on goods produced in China, according to a May 18 New York Times article.

Bike sales in the Northeast are heavily seasonal, so pre-season ordering begins in the fall, according to Chock of the Brattleboro Bicycle Shop. The shop would then build up its inventory over the winter to get ready to sell through the spring and summer, he said. He likened it to a hot dog vendor beginning each day with the same number of hot dogs to sell. The difference is not in how many hot dogs the vendor sells, but whether he sells out of them by 1:30 p.m. or 4 p.m., Chock said.

In the case of the bike shop, he expected to have enough bikes to get through the summer but sold out of most everything in the first half of the season, he said.

Anderson, who had his bike shop and repair business on Winchester Street in Keene for decades, said that there will be an increase in bicycles coming into stores in the next four or five weeks, but by then it will almost be too late to help sales.

“People aren’t going to wait; they’re going to put off buying until next year,” he said.

He predicts when the year is done, bike sales will be down from 2019.

“I don’t believe more people are interested in buying bikes,” he said. “The biggest thing is bikes are unavailable right now.”

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Students call for removing Franklin Pierce’s name from colleges

Students and alumni are calling for universities bearing the name of Franklin Pierce, the only president from the state of New Hampshire, to change their names, as part of the national conversation and greater scrutiny of celebration of historical figures with ties to racism.

Chelsea Leach, a Southern New Hampshire University student who studied at Franklin Pierce, started a petition to change the name of the university on Monday, on the site Change.org.

“While the University has changed its name once in 2007 from ‘College’ to ‘University’ I am asking you to change the name from a man who condoned egregious criminal acts and the enslavement of African American lives. Please consider changing the name of your University to represent the diversity and inclusion that is present in our society today,” Leach wrote in her petition request.

In a statement issued to the Ledger-Transcript on Tuesday, the university was receptive to opening a dialogue with students about its namesake.

“Franklin Pierce University continues to grieve the killing of George Floyd and the painful reminder it, and so many other senseless deaths, offers of the systematic racism that plagues our nation,” the statement read. “Prior to Mr. Floyd’s death we finalized a new Diversity and Inclusivity statement as a key focus of our new five-year strategic plan, and today we continue to call on our community to join the virtual gatherings we created to share ideas, heal and identify actions we can take to bring about real change.”

While the statement did not outline any formal process for the discussion of a name change, it did leave the door open for those discussions to occur.

“We will be equally thoughtful in any formal process we put in place for our students, faculty, staff, trustees and alumni to discuss any concerns related to the namesake of our university, the 14th president of the United States. Most importantly, we will remain steadfast in our commitment to send students into the world who are committed to justice and equality for all — regardless of race, creed, gender identity or sexual orientation,” the statement read.

The petition about Franklin Pierce University’s name comes on the heels of the discussion about changing the name of another “Franklin Pierce” institution: The UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. Students have mobilized with letters to the administration, and on social media, using the hashtags “#UNHLoud,” a reference to a racial justice movement at Michigan Law School.

The Franklin Pierce Law Center, as it was originally known, nearly lost the moniker when it joined the University of New Hampshire in 2010. However, just last year, the school renamed its law branch as the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law, a blended name for its recognition value and to appease alumni who wanted to see the name carry on. At the time, the National Black Law Student Association in Washington, D.C. protested the re-adoption of the name, based on Pierce’s racist policies, in a statement published by the National Jurist, according to the Concord Monitor.

Now, however, UNH is taking a harder look at the name, after letters sent to the institution in early June, asking for the name to be removed, the Concord Monitor reports.

In a statement to the Concord Monitor, Meghan Carpenter, dean of UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law, expressed support for the student’s requests to change the name of the law school, writing, “Our school has an incredible opportunity to become a meaningful part of the national dialogue happening at this moment. I’m personally inspired by the voices within our school community who are expressing their feelings on this issue. The school will gather input and engage discussion on a variety of issues related to racial justice, diversity and inclusion, and the Franklin Pierce name will of course be a significant part of these discussions.”

Associate dean of administration for the school, Leah Plunkett, also told the Monitor she was open to starting a discussion about changing the organizations’ names.

Legacy of Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States, was a northern Democrat, and while not a slave owner himself, was a pro-slavery northerner who opposed the abolitionist movement and signed several significant laws that perpetuated the practice.

Doug Ley, an associate history professor at Franklin Pierce University, said among historians, Pierce’s legacy isn’t impressive. There may not have been a politician at the time who could have eased tensions enough to avoid the Civil War, but Pierce’s tenure didn’t improve matters any, Ley said.

“As far as Franklin Pierce being problematic, I think he is, and have long thought that,” Ley said. Ley said that though the university has not taken serious consideration of a name change in the past, he has suggested to past presidents that other New Hampshire political figures, such as Pierce contemporary and adversary, John Parker Hale, an anti-slavery activist and Senator, would be a more appropriate choice.

Ley said Pierce had a tragic personal life, losing all three of his sons before they reached adulthood, and had little corruption in his White House, as well as maintaining his original cabinet throughout his presidency. But his political legacy overshadows those points dramatically.

Notably, Pierce approved the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which decreed settlers in a territory could decide the issue of slavery. The act effectively overturned a previous decision, the Missouri Compromise, which created a latitude line as the boundary between free and slave states, and could have allowed slavery to creep into the northern portion of the country. The Act was so controversial, it led to bloody fighting in Kansas as settlers on both sides rushed to move in and create a majority, and was one of the factors that helped form the new Republican Party.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act inflamed tensions between the north and the south and was one of the factors that set the stage for the Civil War.

Pierce also continued to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, and dispatched federal troops to enforce the recapture of an escaped slave named Anthony Burns, who had made it to Boston, an act which enraged many northerners.

While those are some of the notable facts of his presidency, Ley said that in his earlier political career, Pierce also was part of the committee that wrote a gag rule that prohibited discussions of slavery in the legislature. That was 20 years before he won the nomination.

“His goal was always to just not talk about slavery. I don’t think he was unusual as a political leader in being racist. Most were, by our standards today,” Ley said.

His vice president, William King, was from Alabama, and his family was the largest slaveholding family in the state.

Pierce, a compromise candidate in his first term, lost the confidence of his northern Democrat supporters, who ultimately did not nominate him for a second term, instead nominating James Buchanan Jr. He and Buchanan both often rank at the bottom of historians’ analyses of the most effective presidents.

“He’s useful only in that he’s useful to explain what a disaster he was. I don’t know any historian that touts him as an effective leader,” Ley said. “I don’t see any reason we should be wedded to Franklin Pierce as a name.”

Perhaps due to his lack of popularity in his native north when he left the office, there is only one monument to Franklin Pierce in the state. In 1913, the state legislature agreed to erect a statue of Pierce on the state house lawn in Concord, which was put into place in 1914 and remains there today.

Ley, who is also a state representative, said it’s notable that the statue isn’t located inside the stone courtyard at the Statehouse.

“Times change, culture changes, and the ways people think change,” Ley said. “Decisions on who to commemorate and memorialize are not unchangeable, and we have to recognize that, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

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Hundreds sign petition calling for police body cameras in Keene

More than 400 people have signed a petition calling for the Keene Police Department to equip its officers with body cameras.

According to a June 16 letter sent to the City Council and signed by a group called Keene Direct Action along with three individuals, the petition, which was submitted with the letter, seeks not only for the department to obtain body cameras but also for the council to discuss the matter before voting on the city’s 2020-21 budget. Both the final budget vote and the petition are on the council’s meeting agenda for Thursday night.

“In light of recent events around the country, we hope that you take our concerns about police accountability into serious consideration before approving the budget for the next fiscal year,” the letter reads.

Laura Dunfey-Ehrenberg, Lynne Carrion and Josie Fernandez-Andersen — the three who signed the letter — were not reachable for comment via Facebook Messenger.

The recent events the letter refers to are the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police on May 25, and the subsequent protests against police brutality that have sprung up across the county and world, including in Keene, Winchester, Brattleboro and other nearby communities.

In addition to the hard copy petition submitted to the council, the Keene Direct Action group also launched a separate, online petition over the weekend via Change.org. As of Thursday morning, the petition had 371 signatures with a goal of 500.

“Police accountability goes a far way,” wrote Charlie Tousley in a comment on the Change.org petition. “While we don’t have the same social issues in NH, and particularly Keene, as in other states and major cities, we should still hold our police department to the highest standards of accountability. Reforming our own police, even by small steps, can act as a major influence on the rest of the state and country.”

“I can’t think of any logical reason to be against this idea,” commented Kathleen Medvidofsky. “It just helps keep everyone safe and accountable.”

For fiscal year 2020-21, City Manager Elizabeth Dragon has put forth a budget that would appropriate nearly $8 million to the police department. Calls to use some of that money to buy body cameras arose during a public forum on racial justice the city hosted Monday, with several residents stating that this would enhance police accountability.

Keene Police Chief Steven Russo said Thursday morning it would be premature to comment on the letter and petition before the City Council meeting.

Russo has shown sympathy to those who have protested in the wake of Floyd’s death. During a large rally in Keene earlier this month, Russo marched with Cheshire County Sheriff Eli Rivera and Keene police Officer Cristina Paterno, carrying signs that read, “We hear you.”

Hours before the demonstration, Russo issued a statement condemning the actions of the Minneapolis officers who were involved in Floyd’s death and emphasizing that actions like theirs break the trust between police departments and the communities they serve.

In addition to reconsidering elements of police budgets, such as shifting funding to accommodate equipment (like body cameras) or additional training, many people across the U.S. have called for municipalities to direct money away from police departments to pay for other public safety initiatives. Some suggestions have included hiring mental-health experts to respond to certain calls, rather than sending in law enforcement.

While he said he isn’t in favor of defunding police per se, Keene City Councilor Terry Clark has expressed interest in exploring ways to create an umbrella safety department in the city that includes not only police and fire but also counselors and possibly other professionals.

He said last week that he has asked the council to give the idea some thought, though no formal action has been taken at this time.

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Swanzey board approves multifamily housing project

NORTH SWANZEY — The Swanzey Zoning Board of Adjustment has given the go-ahead to a market-rate multifamily development proposed for Monadnock Highway. Now the proposal can move on to the planning board for site-plan review.

On Monday night the board unanimously approved granting Asher Properties LLC of Sharon the special exception it needed to erect a four-story, 80-unit apartment building in Swanzey’s business zoning district. The 2.51-acre site at 173-175 Monadnock Highway is among a cluster of properties between Safford Drive and Kershaw Road and is north of the entrance to Page Homestead Senior Housing.

The plan for the Asher Properties project calls for a truncated L-shaped structure. The building would be approximately 18,752 square feet at the rear of the property, about 179 feet back from Monadnock Highway (Route 12), according to a June 8 memorandum to the zoning board from Matthew Bachler, director of planning and economic development for Swanzey. There would be 160 parking spaces on the site, the majority of which would be between the building and the roadway, Bachler wrote. The three residential dwellings and small storage building now on the property would be removed, he noted.

The project is expected to be a market-rate development, he wrote.

The building would have a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units that would all have deck spaces, Chad Branon of Fieldstone Land Use Consultants LLC told board members, according to a draft of the Monday meeting minutes. There will be common hallways, an elevator and sidewalks along the front and back of the building, he said.

In his memo, Bachler notes that 173-175 Monadnock Highway is adjacent to a proposed gas station and convenience store development that has received site-plan approval from the town. That plan requires modifications to the travel lanes on Route 12. Bachler suggests that if the housing project moves forward, the roadway and entrance improvements of both projects could be combined in coordination with the N.H. Department of Transportation.

Green2Green Energy LLC is proposing a gas station, convenience store with fast food drive-through, and car wash at 163-165 Monadnock Highway.

Minutes from Monday’s meeting indicate zoning board members had few questions about the housing project. Only three abutters raised concerns about it in written correspondence with the zoning board. Their concerns included how drainage of the property would be managed, the potential for additional traffic in the area and the effect more families moving to town could have on the school system.

There was no public comment during the hearing, according to the minutes.

Bachler said by phone Wednesday the next step will be for Asher Properties to go before the planning board.

The project is the third multifamily housing project to be proposed in the North Swanzey business district this year.

In February, the zoning board approved, 3-1, a special exception for 32 units of housing on a vacant 2-acre property on the west side of Old Homestead Highway (Route 32). The site abuts town-owned property to the south.

The housing would be spread over four buildings, each containing eight units. The buildings at the front would be two-story townhouses, while the two buildings closest to the back of the property would be for single-floor living. The parking lot would have 72 spaces.

The planning board unanimously approved the site plan and condominium subdivision for the project on May 28.

The zoning board denied a special exception, 4-1, for the third project at its May 4 meeting. The plans, proposed by Avanru Development Group Ltd. of Walpole, call for a four-story building with 76 affordable-housing units for seniors at 115 Old Homestead Highway. The property is between the Keene-owned Dillant-Hopkins Airport and Wilson Pond. The project encountered heavy opposition from area residents questioning if it would fit the character of the neighborhood, increase traffic and reduce property values.

The zoning board denied, 4-1, a motion for rehearing on May 18. The developer has since filed a lawsuit in Cheshire County Superior Court saying the board’s decision was unlawful.