by Joe Buttweiler –
MASON CITY — After a roaring first year when high gas prices drove huge interest in fuel-efficient transportation, business began to sputter at Green Tree Scooters.
Gas prices went down and the economy tanked. Sales dropped sharply, from about 10 to 12 a month to a trickle, said Dave and Austin Van Zante, father-and-son owners of Green Tree Scooters, 7 S. Federal Ave.
So they refocused the business to concentrate more on refurbishing old scooters, and now have customers from coast to coast looking for vintage Vespas. Over the past two years Green Tree has restored 18 of the Italian-made scooters, buying them off of Craigslist or eBay and restoring them to mint condition.
“We restore all our bikes to factory specs,” said Austin, a car-restoration buff who morphed into scooter restorations. He’s done Porsches and Volkswagens and owns a 1959 Porsche.
Many of the scooter restorations are highlighted on Green Tree’s website. “Our website is what we’re known for now,” said Austin. It lists products sold, special deals on scooters, and lots and lots of pictures. Potential buyers of vintage scooters being restored can follow the progress online.
“We do this because we love it. We’re passionate about it, Dave said.
Interest in scooters by those concerned about fuel prices picked up again a few months ago, but nothing like it was three years ago, Dave said. Back then there were people waiting several months to buy a 50cc scooter. They’re not only great on gas mileage – commonly more than 100 miles a gallon – but they do not require the rider have a motorcycle license.
“The first year we were open, people were just bonkers about the gas prices. If we could get a scooter in a color they wanted, they would come from 100s of miles,” Dave said.
“But then gas prices went down and the economy went in the toilet and the sales went down,” he said. “So we reinvented ourselves and went into restorations.”
They buy vintage Vespas from all over the United States and restore them. Sometimes there are waiting lists for buyers, such as for the 1969 GS 160 Vespa.
Austin is restoring a 1952 Vespa originally sold by Sears Roebuck. It is one of the first 2,000 Vespas ever sold in the United States, he said.
Green Tree has a blue 1976 Vespa for sale for $3,800. The most expensive one they’ve sold went for about $6,200.
While there are two main competitors in the Mason City area selling scooters – Mason City Honda and Mason City Powersports, the closest competitors for Vespa restorations are in New York and California, the Van Zantes said. But since prices are higher there because of the higher cost of living, customers find Green Tree’s restored bikes more economical, even with the $300 to $400 shipping cost added on, Dave said.
“Our main goal is to give people the best product,” he said.
As for the future, “We hope to just keep on doing what we’re doing and getting better at it,” Austin said.
Hours at the store are noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.