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Bikle's Ski Shop to close after ski and snowboard season ends

Co-owners Bill L. Clowser and his sister, Barbara Tritle, will retire from the family business after they close up the Hagerstown shop

February 20, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Bill L. Clowser, of Bikle's Ski Shop is retiring after 26 years of co-owning the business with his sister, Barbara Tritle.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Bikle’s Ski Shop, a retail staple in downtown Hagerstown for close to 50 years, will close its doors for good after the ski and snowboard season ends in early spring.

Co-owners Bill L. Clowser and his sister, Barbara Tritle, recently announced they will retire from the family business when they close up at the end of March. Their building at 7 S. Potomac St., is up for sale.

“After 49 years, I’ve decided it’s time to move on from retail,” Clowser said. “I’ve done it long enough. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat equity, but it’s time. I’ve come to that realization.”

Signs that read “Retirement Sale” can be seen in front of the store, located near Hagerstown’s Public Square. Clowser said they are offering 20 percent to 60 percent off merchandise for the rest of the season.

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“Selection is dwindling, but we’re here to serve them until the end of March,” he said.

Bikle’s has been a retailer of ski and snowboard equipment and apparel since 1992, but the history of the Bikle name dates to 1912, when Bikle’s first opened as a shoe store next door on North Potomac Street.

Clowser’s father, known to many as Bill Sr., started working at the shoe shop started by C. Fred Bikle.

Years later, around 1960, the elder Clowser purchased the business from Bikle. Soon after, Bill Sr. discovered his love of skiing and in 1966 decided to add ski equipment to the store, displaying it on a small balcony overlooking the sales floor, his children said.

“There wasn’t (a ski shop) anywhere near here, and he fell in love with the sport and wanted to provide his friends with ski equipment so he started a little hobby on the side,” Clowser said of his father, who died in 1987. “And that grew into what we have today.”

In 1975, the shoe store — with its budding line of ski equipment in tow — moved to its current location for more room a year after it was purchased by Clowser’s father.

It operated as a shoe/ski shop until 1992, when the shoes were phased out and the store became solely dedicated to serving the skiing and snowboarding communities of Washington County and the surrounding areas, Clowser said.

Over the years, Bikle’s customer base grew through kind and caring service that shoppers can’t find at big-box stores, Tritle said.

“Our dad did an incredible job of hammering in our heads that you treat people as you want to be treated,” she said. “And Bill has done a fantastic job of running the shop with integrity. It blows my mind sometimes. I think when you treat people that way, they come back. And that’s what we’ve tried to do.”

The decision to close up shop wasn’t an easy one for Clowser or Tritle, who both started working for their father in their early teens.

“This is what we know. This is what we’ve been doing as a family,” Tritle said. “And we both have just decided it is time that we have some time with our families and don’t have to stand 70 hours a week and work seven days a week. We both are ready for it.”

Clowser said had received some interest from prospective buyers inquiring about his four-story building, which includes nearly 15,000-square-feet of space with large apartments on the upper floors.

Just this past week, an out-of-town investor came to tour the building, he said, noting that the investor seemed “very impressed.”

“All good things have to come to an end, but hopefully somebody will come along and take it over and keep running the business as we have,” Clowser said.

Tritle said it’s going to be a “very sad day” when they close their doors for good, but she hopes that someone will step in to keep the shop running.

“We have two great resorts within a half-hour’s drive. We have four, five within a two hours’ drive,” Tritle said. “We really do need to have a shop in the area.”

After his retirement from retail, Clowser said he will keep busy with his other jobs, working as site manager and summer pool manager at North Gate Townhomes in north Hagerstown.

He said he’s looking forward to being able to spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren.

“And maybe once in a while get to play golf,” Clowser said.

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