Take a sunny ride around the county with Chispa

Fairhaven scooter sales and rental company offers a
gas-friendly excursion

 

Chispa employees and scooter enthusiasts James Pitzer, Jason Frederick and Justin Daniels sit on their Piaggio scooters outside the Fairhaven shop.

 

Ashton Kutcher’s been seen riding one. So has Sarah Jessica Parker. Mickey Rourke allegedly got a DUI on one last November. Around the United States, it seems more celebrities have been photographed riding scooters. Everyday people are riding scooters more, too, which is good news to businesses like Chispa, a Fairhaven scooter rental agency/dealership.

“Tourists will rent them for an hour and take them around Fairhaven,” Chispa’s general manager James Pitzer said. “Students will rent them to run errands with. Older folks will take them on day trips down Chuckanut Drive or the Mount Baker Highway.”

With gas prices rising, many Bellingham residents are turning to businesses like Chispa for more affordable transportation options. Offering different brands of scooters such as Vespa, Piaggio, EVT, Genuine, eGo and Segway, as well as accessories, memorabilia, and mechanical support, Chispa was designed as a spot for scooter-type vehicle enthusiasts. Chispa also offers scooter rentals, ranging from $25 for one hour to $80 for the day. Scooter purchases start at around $2,000 and increase up to $8,000 for more stylish, high-end models.

Sales are seeing a positive snowball effect.

“Curiosity breeds itself,” Pitzer said. “People see scooters and they get curious and talk about them. People buy scooters and they brag about them.”

Adorning the walls of Chispa are large posters of international celebrities on their scooters – Charlton Heston, Anthony Perkins, Henry Fonda, Angie Dickinson. The photos from the 1950s and ‘60s show this is not a new trend.

Its roots can be traced back to war-torn Italy. After the defeat of Italian armies in World War II, the company Piaggio aimed to design a small, inexpensive scooter for urban driving. Based on the Cushman scooters driven by occupying American GIs, Piaggio designed the Vespa (meaning “wasp” in Italian.)

Because of prevailing economic conditions, the inexpensive product soon caught on, and with the help of celebrities like Heston and Fonda, Vespa became the top-end scooter.

“If Piaggio is Ford,” Pitzer said. “Vespa is the Mustang.”

The trend didn’t catch on in the United States as much as it did in Europe and Asia. It wasn’t until the late 1990s when Piaggio made a specific push for the American market that scooters started appearing here.

Pitzer said the biggest thing Piaggio did for that expansion was to make its scooters easier to drive. Before, if someone didn’t have experience with a manual shift, scooters were very difficult. Piaggio made it happen that most now are four-stroke, clean burning automatics — just “twist and go.”

“They invested in technology and it paid off,” Pitzer said. And now, he added, it’s paying off for Chispa.

Local business owner and Chispa customer Fahri Ugurlu rode a Vespa in Adana, Turkey back in the 1960s. He stopped riding when he immigrated to the United States, but bought a Vespa from Chispa a year ago.

“This town has a growing parking problem,” Ugurlu said. “And with gas, I thought, “Why not get back on a scooter?’”

Ugurlu’s return to scooters was expected, as Chispa tech Jason Frederick would say. Frederick commutes more than 45 miles every day on his 2007 GT 200 scooter, and he said the rise in popularity of scooters in America was inevitable. In every other country scooters are prevalent, but the United States hasn’t embraced the trend because gas is cheaper here.

“The whole thing is the U.S. re-elevating itself with the rest of the world,” Frederick said. “Now that we don’t have good gas prices like everyone else, I see scooters being commuter vehicles for middle America and I see cars re-becoming status symbols.”

Frederick noted that when people get into scooters, it’s a lifestyle change.

It becomes fashion following function.

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