Biking trails offer new paths for businesses

Ken Fields, owner of Outbound Station Coffee Shop, stands in front of his shop in Conshohocken with bike-riding customers in the background.
Ken Fields, owner of Outbound Station Coffee Shop, stands in front of his shop in Conshohocken with bike-riding customers in the background. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 15, 2014

With a glistening river beside him and a lush treetop canopy above, Patrick Starr, executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, was in his nature-loving glory atop his Zurich LeMond road bike one spring day a couple of years ago, breezing along the Schuylkill River Trail, when two things of beauty caught his eye.

They were signs on the fence of a restaurant on the other side of Kelly Drive, just west of the Route 1 overpass, in East Falls. One said: "Bikes Welcome." The other: "Beer & Bikes."

The establishment, In Riva, has since become a regular thirst-quenching, carb-loading stop for the Center City resident, who pedals once a week to Valley Forge and back.

That's precisely what co-owner and chef Arthur Cavaliere had hoped for when, after opening his Italian restaurant in December 2011, he hung those signs, replaced the lattice on the metal fence lining the outside dining deck with five bicycles and installed bike racks.

"The reason nothing worked here before was because they did not appeal to these people on that trail," Cavaliere said last week from the deck, recently expanded to accommodate growing customer counts. He credits the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) for that, judging from all the spandex and biking jerseys filling In Riva's 190 seats.

It's been a slow roll. But as the region's trail system known as The Circuit, which includes the SRT, gains critical mass, small businesses in particular are realizing its revenue-generating potential and taking steps to capitalize on it.

"We've been excited to hear over time about the momentum that it's generated," said Laura Sparks, chief philanthropy officer at William Penn Foundation, whose long involvement in local trail development began as a way to increase public access to waterways and promote their stewardship.

The foundation's investments in trails dates to at least 1986, with grants for trail design, construction, and advocacy totaling more than $20 million.

The Circuit consists of 275 navigable miles, with an additional 445 - improvement costs estimated at $250 million - envisioned by 2040.

With significant trail segments slated for completion in the next couple of years, including along the Manayunk Bridge to link Manayunk's bars, restaurants and shops with cross-river neighbor Lower Merion, "what we're saying to businesses is . . . now's the time to pay attention, invest, and catch the wave - or the hill," Starr said. He is also the Pennsylvania vice chair of the Circuit Coalition, a collaboration of nonprofit organizations, foundations, and other agencies pushing for completion.

"The investments made by the municipalities and counties pay off," said Sarah Clark Stuart, chair of the Circuit Coalition and deputy director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. "These trails attract new development, increase property values, support small businesses that serve users, and help other businesses who have employees who want to use the trails [to get to and from work]."

Case in point is the SRT, currently 60 miles of finished segments between Philadelphia and Pottsville.

According to a 2009 survey of more than 1,200 SRT users by the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, the path yielded $3.7 million in spending on durable goods such as bicycles, helmets, and skates, and $3.6 million on consumable goods, with the average user spending $9.07, said Carl Knoch, manager of trail development.

That's why Kay Sykora at the Manayunk Development Corp. is trying to get businesses along Manayunk's two miles of SRT trail to do more to be noticed from it.

"This is a very unique feature that we have to capitalize on," she said.

They've done just that at Conshohocken Brewing Co., which opened its brewpub April 1 in a former warehouse at SRT mile marker 12.5 (the intersection of East Elm and Righter Streets), replacing a rear concrete-block wall with two 10-by-8-foot glass roll-up doors that open to a deck and stairs leading to the trail.

Conshohocken Running Club has made the brewery its start and end point every Thursday night. "We're just super-thrilled and appreciative that the folks who are utilizing the Schuylkill River Trail are responding as they are," said Conshohocken Brewing cofounder John Remington.

Trail users have helped Ken and JoMarie Fields survive their first 20 months in business at their Outbound Station Coffee Shop, located along the SRT in a former Pennsylvania Railroad station dating from the 1880s in Conshohocken.

"As the business has grown, different cycling clubs put our name on their websites and they start and end here," Ken Fields said.

For a small business, that's a thrilling ride.


>Inquirer.com

Hear Arthur Cavaliere, chef and co-owner of In Riva, talk about his mission to appeal to residents of East Falls and those running and riding bikes along Kelly Drive. www.inquirer.com/business


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull

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