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St. Petersburg catches scooter buzz

Jean Cherubin rides a scooter near the Pier in St. Petersburg. Fuel efficiency is a draw, but so’s the fun factor, says one shop owner.

JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times file (2006)

Jean Cherubin rides a scooter near the Pier in St. Petersburg. Fuel efficiency is a draw, but so’s the fun factor, says one shop owner.

ST. PETERSBURG

Eddie Dreyer can see the Exxon gas station sign through his shop's window.

It reads $3.59 per gallon for regular unleaded.

While the skyrocketing price of gas causes agony for most area residents, each uptick in the price per gallon bodes well for his business.

Dreyer sells motorized scooters at Retro Unlimited, the shop he owns with his father on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N in St. Petersburg.

As fuel prices rise, so do his sales.

"Gas prices are definitely driving sales," he said. "We are not doing a single bit of advertising, and we still stay busy."

Scooters with a small 50cc engine average 80 to 100 miles per gallon, and more powerful 150cc engine models get 60 to 80 miles per gallon. The cost of filling the 1- to 2-gallon tank comes in under $10.

Prices range from $1,000 to upwards of $5,000.

Fuel economy may drive customers to the showroom, but Dreyer said the fun factor really sells people.

"The scooter culture is really catching on in St. Petersburg," he said. "There always has been kind of an underground thing, but now there are a lot more people getting into it."

The sale of accessories like helmets, courier bags and clothing has also increased in the past several months, Dreyer said.

Local sales reflect a national trend.

Daniel Pak, co-owner of Flyscooters, a scooter manufacturer based in Emeryville, Calif., said sales have increased about 275 percent over last year.

"Every time there is a significant increase in fuel prices, we start getting calls from our dealers asking for more inventory," he said. "We're one of the few industries happy about gas prices going up."

Pak said the U.S. scooter market is just beginning to take off because of the pressure of fuel costs, but other countries, particularly in Asia, already have scads of scooter users.

"So many other countries realize scooters are a viable means of transportation. People here in the U.S. are realizing what other countries have known for a long time," he said. "It's also a lot of fun."

Determining the actual number of scooters registered in Pinellas County proves difficult because the state classifies them as motorcycles. There were 18,961 motorcycles registered in the county between July 2006 and January 2007, and 19,903 in the same period of 2007-2008, a 5 percent increase, according to Florida Department of Transportation figures.

Ryan Johns, 24, of St. Petersburg bought a scooter six months ago, when he wrecked his truck. He couldn't afford a replacement. He recently bought another truck, but he said he still primarily rides the scooter.

"I don't even want to drive the truck because of the gas," he said.

"People pull up next to me all the time and ask if I want to sell it," Johns said. "I tell them, 'No way. I love this thing.' "

Michael Maharrey can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or mmaharrey@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg catches scooter buzz 05/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2008 1:23pm]

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