Local shops add electric bikes

With gas prices continuing to float over $4 per gallon, commuters are searching for ways to save. Two local businesses are trying to assist by providing a new-fangled contraption: electric bikes.

These vehicles can be pedaled like traditional bikes. However, they have an electric motor that kicks in to provide an extra burst of juice, pushing the bike’s speed up over 25 mph.

Dressel’s Ace Hardware on Chicago Avenue started carrying electric bikes this past spring. Co-owner Todd Dressel considered selling two-wheeled Segways but instead moved toward electric bikes.

“Each electric bike is a step towards reducing our dependence on oil, and at the same time, it’s cleaning up our environment,” he said.

Dressel’s carries two different brands and several different models, which range in price from $800 to $1,799. The more expensive bikes run on higher quality batteries. Those top end models reach up to 26 mph and their batteries last 50-60 miles.

The hardware store has sold four electric bikes already. Dressel believes a niche market will build for the bikes.

“I think, as they start opening up bike lanes left and right, it’s just going to be a better way of transportation,” he said.

Batteries for the bikes are plugged in and recharged. They last about 500 cycles, which could be anywhere from 1-5 years, depending on usage.

Some electric bikes simply rev up and run on electricity at any time during a ride, while others require the cyclist to pedal before the boost kicks in. Electric bikes are governed by the same laws as bicycles-not motorcycles or scooters.

Oak Park resident Glenn Hunter distributes the electric bikes to Dressel’s and represents three different manufacturers. He said more than 21 million of the bikes were sold in China last year, and the demand for them will continue to increase as oil prices change.

“One more doubling of energy prices and this is going to be a fabulous market,” he said. “As it is, it’s a good market.”

Barnard’s Schwinn Cycling and Fitness Center on North Avenue also started selling electric bikes this past spring. Co-owner Jeff Hajduk says they have two different models for sale, which range from $1,899 to $2,399. They’ve sold two so far this summer.

Hajduk admits it’s a big investment but thinks they’re also a lot of fun.

“It’s a neat thing,” he said. “I’m using one myself, so I can understand them a little bit. It kind of makes you feel like a 10-year-old again.”

Rocking Horse to close shop, focus on Internet

With retail sales lagging, a Downtown Oak Park shop plans to close its doors. But the business won’t close forever.

Rocking Horse Boutique, located at Marion Street and Westgate, which is approaching its 10th year in business, will soon shut down its brick-and-mortar operation. However, co-owner Adriana Kopecka says she will continue to sell specialty baby clothing and gifts on their website.

Owners toyed with the idea of moving to a new, smaller location. Forest Park and Oak Park were scouted, but the numbers just didn’t work.

“The economy has been really tough,” Kopecka said. “What we wanted to have and pay is not available right now, and I think doing the Internet makes more sense at this point.”

After the holiday season, Kopecka said business just got tougher and tougher. The store is located on the former Marion Street mall and sales were hit hard while construction took place last year.

“The merchants who invested in this area took a big blow, and really got no financial help during that time,” she said. “And for some of us, it is too difficult to bounce back from the blow.”

She believes the retail mix on Marion Street still needs work and notes that customers have issues with parking in downtown Oak Park.

With shoppers becoming more and more price-conscious, the boutique has had to focus more on special occasions like weddings and communions, moving away from everyday childwear.

The store has a lease signed until April of next year. Kopecka hopes to sublet the 1,700-square-foot space in the meantime. She could not say when the store will close exactly. She hopes to devote her spare time to her singing career (she studied music in college).

In the meantime, you can either shop at the store or at RockingHorseBoutique.com.

“Closing the store, we’re doing with a heavy heart,” Kopecka said. “But emotion aside, we have to do what’s best for our family, and that’s ultimately what’s got to drive the decision. It’s been a rough year, and not one that I’d probably look upon fondly. Sometimes one has to go through the pain of closing.”

Yogurt shop to join downtown mix

A self-serve yogurt shop will open in Downtown Oak Park in the next few months.

Named “YoGo Station,” the small eatery allows customers to fill their cup with as much frozen yogurt and toppings as desired. They will offer 8-10 different flavors and garnishes like fruit, cereal, nuts and candy, according to a press release. An 8-ounce serving will go for $3-4.

YoGo will be located at 1000 Lake St., just west of Hair Cuttery. The owner-former Oak Park resident Felipe Yung-is targeting the eatery to the health-conscious consumer.

They hope to open in August or September. Commercial real estate firm David King & Associates represented the property owner in the lease transaction.

Indian restaurant still remodeling

Local restaurant Khyber Pass still has a few months left before it reopens.

The owner of the Indian restaurant, located on Lake Street a block west of Forest Avenue, says interior renovations of the space will continue until September. They closed in April to remodel the more than 80-year-old building’s façade.

A few months ago, the restaurant signed a 10-year lease with property owner Mike Fox to stay on Lake Street. Khyber Pass has been in Oak Park for about 13 years, said owner Malik Jawid.

The restaurant will have a more modern appearance after its interior is completely redone. Khyber will remain the same size-about 3,000 square feet.

Jawid urged anyone with a taste for Khyber Pass to visit its other location at 233 E. Wacker Dr. in Chicago.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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