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Plaine and Son in Schenectady set to close after almost 75 years in business

Plaine and Son in Schenectady set to close after almost 75 years in business

Stalwart retailer evolving into online bike seller
Plaine and Son in Schenectady set to close after almost 75 years in business
Plaine and Son on State Street in Schenectady is closing it’s doors after 75 years.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SCHENECTADY - Les Plaine, age 65, has spent about 50 hours a week operating his family 's bicycle retail business, Plaine and Son at 1816 State St., since he was maybe 30 — approximately 91,000 hours of his adult life.

"I'm the son," Les Plaine said about the business name.

He actually started working at the store when he was six years old, but he didn't acquire ownership of it from his father Lou Plaine until he was about 35, he said, and he spent 10 years of his life starting at age 19 working at a bike shop called "Plaine's" he owned with his older brother in Pittsfield, Mass. 

Lou Plaine, who is still alive at age 101, started Plaine and Son in 1945. 

The stalwart city business won't quite make it to its 75th birthday. Plaine and Son started what it's calling a "Retirement Sale" Thursday, to clear off all of its inventory at 50 percent off prices, including bicycles, tools, bike parts, skis, snowboards and clothing and other equipment associated with those pastimes. Les Plaine said he expects to close by January and he plans to sell the brick and mortar retail site. 

"I don't have a son that wants to take it over. He's doing other things, and not interested in this," he said. "[Closing now] is all about my age. I want to do some other things." 

One of the things Les Plaine wants to do is continue to operate a smaller business he's been running inside the bike shop for the past year, New York Bicycle Co., a brand of bikes he designs and sells on Amazon.com. 

"We were looking to fill a niche of bikes that were a little higher-end than what's available in Walmart, but not as expensive than what is typically in a bike shop," he said. "We have a full line, everything from little tiny kids up to mountain bikes, everything. We've got 30 models. The prices range from $150 to $450." 

Les Plaine said he and his employees, who are sales clerks who are converting over from the retail store, design the bikes and communicate the information with manufacturers in China. 

"They're designed here in Schenectady. We do it through Skype, and Facetime, and there's a number of phone calls and we use a translator and everything. We set up the designs. They make them. What separates us and makes us unique is before I send them to the customer's homes, I've taken them out, inspected them and taken care of anything I think should be taken care of, and then we ship it," he said. 

Greg Harvey, a sales clerk at Plaine and Son for the past two and a half years, said he's converting over to the strictly online business. He said he hopes to grow his income with the new company. 

"There's not a big huge physical space like this huge store, there's less overhead. It's simpler," Harvey said. 

Harvey said some things carry over between the two jobs, like having to be knowledgeable about the inventory.

"Some people, you know, you just put them on a bike, they like it, it's whatever," he said. "Online, you don't have the face to face, but if somebody asks you a question, you still have to answer the question, if you post a description you have to answer potential questions, pictures so people can see the bikes." 

Les Plaine said when he first took over ownership of the store he decided to incorporate ski equipment because bike sales drop during the winter time. His New York Bicycle Co. venture is a similar strategy, evolving to where the sales are. 

"The internet sales are growing pretty rapidly, the retail sales are kind of flat, which I don't think is news," he said. 

When he closes the retail store Les Plaine said he'll lose the 3,000 square feet he had been using to create new bike designs. He'll also lose a good way to showcase the New York Bicycle Co. bikes. But he's ready for that.

He said he's been taking the bikes to trail heads, state fairs and farmer's markets, all to get the word out on the new company. He said he's sold several hundred of them on Amazon so far, but he still sees the new business as a retirement because it's less demanding that operating a retail store. 

"On the one hand I'm happy because I'll have more freedom, on the other hand I'll miss the customers, so I have mixed emotions," he said.                            

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