Going along for the ride
By Trevor Gerard and Paul Espinosa / Special to The Chronicle
Eddie Sampson spends Mondays through Fridays in Washington, D.C., working security at the United States Capitol. He has this job as his primary source of income, but, on weekends, he gets to live out his passion at his shop in Shepherdstown.
Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle is where he and his staff fix, sell and rent bicycles and kayaks to people taking advantage of the local bike routes and waterways.
Sampson, who lives in Northern Virginia, opened the shop in 2007. He had once visited Shepherdstown on a cycling trip and said he fell in love with town and its people. He knew the area would be a great place to open the shop and started looking for property immediately. Soon after, he found the building he wanted on East German Street and Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle was established.
“Shepherdstown is great because we have a lot of small, privately owned businesses in the area,” Sampson said. “It’s great to get that small-town feel in such close proximity to D.C.”
Sampson, 52, has been an avid cyclist since his college days at Radford University and has always been an advocate of a lifestyle of fitness that is also fun. He grew up next to a boys youth club near Richmond, Va., and originally opened the shop with the intention of using it to instill a love of riding in kids and relaying the importance of being active to them.
“I grew up a gym rat all my life,” he said. “I didn’t have one or two friends. Growing up next to the boys club, I had 20 friends.”
Sampson said he tries to always do something active in order to keep himself young. He feels that the fun, active lifestyle he was exposed to in his youth has been lost among the current generation of kids.
“Now, with computers and stuff like that, my main thing is to get kids exposed to as many different sports as I can.”
The bike and kayak shop has many local regulars, and Sampson and his staff get joy out of the relationships they form with them.
Head technician and shop manager Jamie Stone said that it’s this kind of personal connection that makes his experience working at Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle more fun than all the other shops he has worked at.
“You develop relationships,” he said.
“If one of my ‘guys’ comes in and needs a part, I know I can throw him that part and he’ll come back and pay for it. It’s kind of cool that I get to be personally involved in everyone’s personal thing with their bikes.”
While Sampson said that his main interest is still working with kids, Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle’s main revenue comes from tourism.
“We get people from D.C. and Northern Virginia that have homes out here, and they tell their friends about the area and then they come out for a visit and fall in love with it and tell someone else,” Sampson said. He thinks this cycle is the reason he sees many returning customers looking to rent as well as new people weekly in the shop.
According to Sampson and the shop’s assistant manager Hannah Beahm, who handles most of the business management and accounting, about 90 percent of the shop’s business comes in prime tourist season, between April and October. Though the shop sells equipment and offers repair services, bike rentals are the only aspect of business that have shown consistent, substantial growth every year over the course of the shop’s existence.
But Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle is not unique.
Shepherdstown is located in Jefferson County, which generates more money through tourism than any other county in the West Virginia. The West Virginia Division of Tourism reported most recently that in 2008 Jefferson County earned over $151 million through tourism-related income. That was about 16.6 percent of all the travel-generated income in the state and over $40 million more than the next highest county. Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle is able to use this popular tourist destination to its advantage.
“Sometimes we’re an information center, and sometimes we just tell people where is good to eat,” Stone said. “As long as we can get people into the shop, I feel like I can get them interested in playing with our toys.”
The shop uses various attractions in the area as tools to draw in its rental customers.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and its popular biking trail as well as the nearby Potomac River draw bikers and water lovers to the area. One can rent a bike at the shop, ride to the park and be on the trail in about 10 minutes. The closest entrance to the trail less than a mile and half away.
Sampson offers shuttle service for bikers who wish to ride around Antietam Battlefield, but don’t want to bike the four miles to get there. Sampson has many other organized day trips and special deals that are geared specifically for tourists and visitors. “We know that people in D.C. want to get out into nature sometimes and that some tourists and locals may want to experience some of the park,” Sampson said. “We have these trips as an organized day out for people so they don’t have to try to fit everything in on their own. This way then can get what they want and still go for a nice ride.”
Sampson is also open to any new ideas for day trips that his local customers or frequent visitors may have. For now, rentals during the tourist season keep the shop afloat and running smoothly. Preparation for the season is very important to Sampson. He wants to make sure he stays ahead of the game and works with all of the surrounding businesses to make sure the shop flourishes during the tourist season.
“All these little shops around here need tourism,” he said. “When we work together, we all do better and the tourists have a better time in town.”