Looking for relief at the pump? Try a scooter

 

 

By Jeremy Werner

With gas prices at an all-time high, Dale Meadors expected to do very well this year.

The 69-year-old owner of Illini Scooters, 221 S. Locust St., said his store was so full of scooters at the beginning of the year he had to climb over the inventory to get to the back of his store. He doubled the inventory in his quaint store from about 30 to 60 scooters.

Now, Meadors is struggling to keep scooters in the store with only fourteen in stock Tuesday.

“Most of the industry I think geared up for double the sales,” Meadors said. “Well, we’re well above that. But that’s the problem; I have no supply.”

Many businesses are seeing hits to their bottom lines because of high fuel prices. But with many motorists turning to alternative modes of transportation to save money, the scooter industry is thriving.

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“There’s a lot of industries that are suffering; it ain’t scooters,” said Jeff Ryan, employee of Illini Scooters. “We need to lock the doors before we run out of scooters.”

Larger scooters average about 60 miles per gallon of gasoline, while smaller ones can get up to 100 miles per gallon.

Filling a mid-sized car with fuel can cost more than $50, while an SUV or pick-up truck can cost more than $80. Scooter owners usually shell out less than $10 at each fill-up.

Knowing the advantage of selling a high-mileage product, Meadors made a large sign for display in the store comparing the gas mileage of an SUV, car and scooter.

Meadors declined to give out exact sales numbers but said he has sold “quite a few more” scooters than he had in the three years he has owned the business and said this would likely be the first year the store sees a profit. Meadors also said the spike in sales began in February this year, two months before usual.

“I don’t want to say it too loud because I don’t want to see competition down the street,” Meadors said.

Illini Scooters sells six brands of scooters, including Buddy, Kymco and Vespa, which usually range in price of about $2,000 to $6,000.

To drive a scooter with an engine displacement of 150 cubic centimeters or less, a motorist needs a Class L driver’s license. If the scooter is greater than 150 cc, a Class M-license is required.

Meadors said the demographic of scooter consumers has surprised him this year.

“When I opened the doors, all business was University related, either student, faculty or staff,” Meadors said. “However, it has turned out to be that that is maybe one-third of my business. The other two-thirds is old geezers like me, middle-aged couples.”

Some customers make up to 20-mile commutes from towns including Rantoul, Mahomet, Tolono and St. Joseph, Meadors said.

Meadors said University-area customers are buying scooters not only to save on gas but to make parking more convenient. Students and faculty can park scooters in motorcycle lots with the purchase of a permit.

Meadors said there has been a noticeable difference in the number of scooters in Champaign-Urbana in the last four years.

“I think, overall, it’s a cultural change,” Meadors said. “People have accepted high gas prices as the norm, and they know they’re here to stay. We’re not going to see $2 gas again. Because of that, it’s caused a cultural rethinking of our habits, and scooters fit right into it because of the extreme high gas mileage to what else you’re driving.”