by Erin Flynn Jay
Walter Hudson, owner of Walt’s Bike & Barber Shop at 5128 Germantown Ave., is in no rush to retire. Soon to be 88 years old, his shop has been in business for 34 years.
“I’ve worked enough years,” said Hudson, who is still cutting hair in addition to selling bicycles. “I love to cut hair and work with bikes. I always did.”
Hudson was born in the South, but Germantown “was the place for me to come.” He raised three children there (two passed away) and has three grandchildren. Hudson had to borrow money for the business “back in the day.” His first barber shop opened in 1958, and he later added the bicycles. His grandson, Walt Jr., describes his granddad as a well-trusted businessman.
“He never tried to cut corners (so to speak) and always checks everything before it leaves the bike shop,” said Walt Jr.
Walt Jr. noted that the bike inventory must be updated at the shop. Since the pandemic began, customers have purchased almost all of the bikes in stock. Hudson is not the only bike seller to experience such a bonanza. Indeed, bicycle makers around the country report spikes in sales so dramatic as people look for ways to get outside and safely commute that bike sellers are struggling to keep up with demand and are now grappling with inventory shortages.
According to recent articles in The New York Times and Washington Post, basic adult bicycles, known in the industry as “leisure” bicycles, have seen double and triple digit sales increases. According to research from NPD Group, which analyzes industry data, sales of adult leisure bikes were up nationwide 121% in March and even more than that in April and May.
“Consumers are looking for outdoor and kid-friendly activities to better tolerate the challenges associated with stay-at-home orders, and cycling fits the bill well,” said NPD sports industry analyst Dirk Sorenson.
Meanwhile, Hudson said that when he is ready to step down, his grandson Walt Jr. will take over the business. Hudson had to close his shop for three months due to the pandemic but insists that he is “keeping [the shop] clean and sanitized and doing everything they ask me to do.”
The barbershop business is now busier than the bike business since so few bikes are left, but “a lot of [regular customers] have died, and because of the pandemic, some customers are scared to come out to get a haircut.”
Walt Jr., 47, has nothing but admiration for his grandfather. “All my life, I have watched him work hard, never cutting corners, always being honest,” said Walt. Jr. “When I got older, I was able to do the same exact thing — go into a job, work hard, study and have some success. That was due to my grandfather because I try to take after him.”
Growing up, Walt Jr. lived in Germany for a few years before his family returned to Germantown. Whenever Hudson needed Walt Jr. to help out, he did. Walt Jr. left his full-time job for about two years to “learn how to cut hair and learn how to fix bikes before I was back to work.”
When it gets too much for Walt Sr., his grandson pitches in on his days off. Walt Jr. is also a laundry supervisor at Doubletree Hotel in Center City. Previously, he was a manager at the hotel but had to take a step down in case his grandfather retires.
“Whenever he wants me to leave, I will be able to leave it without any problems and take over the shop,” said Walt Jr.
When asked if he was concerned with Walt Sr. cutting hair during the pandemic (he has third-generation customers), Walt Jr. replied, “him wanting to work, that’s how I know he is OK. If he said he did not want to work, then I would be concerned.”
Leslie Cerf, a Chestnut Hill resident, ad salesperson for the Local, is one happy customer of Walt’s.
“I discovered the shop years ago when my son was little, and we went there to look for a bike for him,’ said Cerf. “My son was too freaked out about how different the place was, but I loved it. The bikes used to only be in the basement, and the barber shop was on the main floor. Later bikes and bike paraphernalia were everywhere.”
For more information: 215-849-4984 or waltsbikeandbarbershop.com
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