Ride the Electric Chinese Wave
Cyclical wouldn't be a term used to describe consumer demand for Chinese books and electric bikes and scooters. At least not in Ann Arbor, according to Tony Hung, vice president of the Detroit Scooter Salon and the Taiwan Bookstore, which share a storefront at 4949 Washtenaw Avenue. It's an unlikely business pairing, to be sure.
"This year, the summer came earlier. It was a very warm year. A lot of people showed interest in scooters," Hung says. And for the bookish with a cultural bent: "There are very, very [few] Chinese bookstores in the southeast Michigan area ... There's a trend to learning overseas foreign language now, and a lot of people are interested in Chinese."
Hung's work with the Waterford, Mich.-based Detroit International Auto Salon
(DIAS), an auto parts shopping mall, automotive supplier, and parent company of the Detroit Scooter Salon and Taiwan Bookstore, brought him to the U.S. from Taiwan six years ago.
"We were thinking about, how can we return something back to this community, and that's why we opened the scooter shop and the bookstore," he says. The businesses are owned by Eric Huang.
The scooter shop opened in August of 2011, with the book emporium following a few months later. Half of the 4,000-square-foot space is devoted to electric bikes and scooters; the book emporium and offices fill the remaining. Twelve people are employed at the retailer.
The company peddles scooters and bikes because "Everybody's talking about fuel savings," Hung notes. "We think also Ann Arbor is so concentrated, it's a very compact city, and the travel distance is normally less than 20 miles ... So we think there's a great potential for electric scooters in this area."
Hung happens to pack a foldable electric bike in his car trunk. "Personally, I am from overseas, but I really like this state. What I do is, I like to visit different cities in this state. And how I do that, instead of driving my car to do the window shopping ... I combine that enjoyment with riding my bicycle." With the side benefit of exercise, he adds. His travel log includes Frankenmuth and St. Clair Shores.
The two-wheelers start at $1,500. On one charge, an electric scooter is good for 15 to 20 miles on a flat route. The store carries Shop Rider and Detroit Scooters brands, and Zebra electric bikes. All are currently Asian-made, though Hung says the company plans to produce its own scooters domestically within the next 3-5 years.
"We are looking for joint venture opportunities or some other manufacturing opportunities to move the manufacturing to this area, especially in southeast Michigan. Detroit manufactures cars, there's no reason why we can't make scooters here."
As for the shop's literary offerings, Chinese-language books are available by the carload. The Taiwan Bookstore carries 4-5,000 new and secondhand titles, and some freebies. Topics include cookery, learning Chinese, Chinese exercise, tai chi, gospel, scientific and children's books, and music CDs.
"I would say in terms of the titles ... we are very good in most of the daily living fields," Hung explains.
And surprisingly, the Ypsi bookstore's got a social scene unlike most cafes in town, where hipsters coolly flirt with espresso-rimmed eyes over their Mac screens.
Every Friday night, "If you come in our office, we actually have an area for dancing studios as a party place ... We have a group of people that come here regularly and do some dancing here."
There's also free dinner along with the Chinese and local folk music. Other partners, Eric and Susan Kung, have helped organize the bookstore and the Friday night parties. Free Chinese language learning classes, Bible classes, Chinese teas, and exercise sessions are currently in the planning stages.
"We like to try to do some devotion back to the community," Hung says.
Here, books and scooters aren't at a crossroads. Some customers, pleasantly surprised at the diversity, buy both. And stay to dance later on.
Start your engines: The Detroit International Auto Salon is taking part in the Detroit International Classic Car Show from August 14-16 at Cobo Center in Detroit.
Tanya Muzumdar is a freelance writer, poet, and the Assistant Editor of Concentrate and Metromode. Her last column was: "Got Green? A Talk With Doug Selby".
Detroit Scooters at the Detroit Scooter Salon in Ypsilanti
Scooters at the Detroit Scooter Salon
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Eric Huang
The Taiwan Bookstore