More than 100 mountain bikes, snowboards and skis dropped off for repairs vanished after a Deephaven store abruptly closed, leaving dozens of customers across the metro area without their gear.
The sporting goods repair and consignment store, Gear Doctors, was going to relocate to St. Paul. Instead, it shut down, leaving customers with no way to get their equipment.
"We don't know when we'll get them back," Cameron Olsen of Chanhassen said about her 13-year-old daughter's $800 skis, dropped off nearly six months ago. "It could've been worse. But I think he took advantage of people and that's always disappointing."
Acting on nearly 30 complaints that are still coming in, Deephaven police found and confiscated $15,000-plus worth of sporting goods at a St. Paul warehouse last month. But they've been unable to find the store's owner, Michael Metzler, 35, of Roseville.
Alex Henriksen, 25, who managed the bike department before quitting in May, said Metzler got into personal legal issues that put him behind in bills. Bike technician Travus Cartwright, 27, who worked at Gear Doctors from when it opened until its last day, added that they relocated the store to St. Paul in August. But before reopening, the owner cut off contact and the five employees' paychecks bounced.
"He literally vanished," he said of the owner. "I don't even know if he's still in the state."
No word from shop owner
Metzler didn't respond to an e-mail from the Star Tribune this week, and all phone numbers for him and his store were disconnected or unable to take calls; family reached for comment said they weren't in touch with him either.
According to its Yelp page, Gear Doctors started in 2004 as a side business before opening a store off busy County Road 101 S., north of Hwy. 7. After opening in 2011, it seemed to do well, boosting its name through online coupons on Groupon, Living Social, Deal Chicken and Star Tribune Steals.
That's how Olsen heard about the shop. She bought a $55 Groupon and in May, brought in nearly new Rossignol Alpine racing skis for a post-season tune up. She stopped in twice this summer and each time, the skis weren't ready.
In late August, she stopped by again. This time, she found a deserted building, a large "for lease" sign staked near the street and a small "we've moved" sign on the front door. Two phone numbers listed on the sign either weren't valid or had a full voicemail box.
"At this point, I'm peeved," she said. "This doesn't smell good."
'It just snowballed'
That's how James Kirkpatrick of St. Louis Park feels, still missing his $600 Diamondback mountain bike after using a Living Social coupon in July.
"I think the owner had good intentions, but didn't know how to handle it when the time came and it just snowballed," he said.
Their cases are part of 28 complaints Deephaven police have received from July to this week.
Sgt. Chris Whiteside said two search warrants unveiled "quite a bit" of bikes, skis, camping gear and other equipment in St. Paul that are now being kept in the police garage as evidence while they look for Metzler.
"We've made several attempts, but we can't locate him," Whiteside said.
For Olsen, her daughter's ski season starts in three weeks and she doesn't know when or if she'll see those missing skis.
"I want my skis; somebody's got to know," she said of tracking down the items and the owner. "They can't just disappear."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib