When people want to ride their bike or exercise in Central Park, where should they put away their belongings?
A budding business at the mouth of the Columbus Circle station, a few steps outside Broadway and Central Park South, wants to provide the answer.
Richard Rafael, a former veteran and running enthusiast, opened T2 Lockers, a one-person locker and bike rack business in January. For $5, a customer can use the locker, bike rack or both for 90 minutes while he watches over the belongings. He named the business after the triathlon, a sport where athletes swim, bike and run.
“For the triathlon, T2 is an actual part of the race, it stands for ‘Transition 2,'” he said. Transition 2 is the period for athletes to get off their bikes and change into running clothes for the running segment.
Rafael said that he thought of the business years ago when he and his wife were in Central Park training for the triathlon. After biking, they realized that someone had to watch over their bikes and helmets. He ended up doing it.
“My wife got to go run,” he said. “I thought it would be cool if there were some place you can put this kind of stuff.”
The T2 Locker is a set of lockers and a bike rack bolted to a cart. Every day, he takes the cart to his spot in Columbus Circle and Broadway from a storage space on 44th Street. His hours of operation fluctuate because he has to tend to his family. He posts his schedule on Facebook and Twitter by 9 p.m. the day before, after watching the weather forecasts for the next three days.
“On the weekends, I’m out here as much as possible,” he said. “The last few Saturdays I’ve been here at 5 a.m.”
Rafael admitted that business has been slow for the first three months of operation. But that could be just because the winter has been particularly harsh.
“It hasn’t been the best, but I attribute it a lot to the weather and a lot to the fact that I’m kind of new,” he said. He hopes the warmer weather will bring more customers.
“The season for marathons and triathlons have just kicked off, the Boston Marathon’s in a couple weeks, so people are starting to train heavily for some of these races,” he said.
Rafael’s lockers are not the only place where people can store their belongings near Central Park. Jack Rabbit Sports on East 72nd Street, or New York Road runners on 81st Street and 5th Avenue also provide temporary storage.
But Rafael felt he had a major advantage over those business simply because he is outdoors where the athletes are.
“Those other places, they’re in a building, where are you going to put your bike?” Rafael said. “I think the biggest way to build the trust is by being here.”
He added that the longer he provides his service, the more people will know he is not a gimmick or that he is planning to steal their belongings. And the more likely they will be inclined to use his business.
Rafael hopes that he will have to hire more employees in the future, especially fellow veterans. He says he also wants to help motivate people to be more active.
“I want to promote health, I want to promote fitness,” he said. “Hey, get out there and exercise, you don’t have an excuse that you don’t have anywhere to put your stuff.”
On a recent Monday in March, not too many people who stopped randomly in the park had heard of T2. Josh Versoza, a 26-year-old law school graduate from Queens, bikes three to four times a week in Central Park to prepare for the April 2014 Tour de Staten Island. He says he mostly bikes, wearing his backpack.
“Everything’s in here,” he said, patting his bag. If he has too many belongings, he says he sometimes drops them off at a friend’s place near the park. He argues that Central Park should have a public storage for such purposes.
As for T2 Lockers, he is a bit skeptical. He worries about the liability in the off chance the property gets stolen.
“I wouldn’t want an ATM to be on wheels, for example,” he said.