When we bought the bicycle store in 1994, there was a lot of inventory. Quite a lot. There
was merchandise dating from the 1970's when Todd Hendries moved the store to the
Water Street location. Bill, who took over the business when Todd couldn't pay the bills
liked to buy. And buy he did, almost to the day until we were ready to sign the purchase
agreement. Sales reps knew they could get Bill to buy their closeouts when they needed
to move them.
There was almost every tool imaginable for servicing bicycles crammed into the repair area.
Both a wooden Campagnolo tool box and a rather rare, Zeus tool kit, of which I only have
heard of one other. Most stores didn't own either one, and we had both. There was the
Phil Wood spoke machine, a luxury tool if ever there was one. While we really didn't buy
it, was on semi permanent loan and resided in the store until Bill reclaimed it as we readied
to close the doors. I would still like to buy it back from him!
There were rental bikes and new bikes from many vintages, skiis and Roller Blades. Parts
and components filled the shelves and inventorying all of this was what nightmares were
made of. There was an awful lot of stuff.
There was also just one account receivable.
A repair that had been in the store for who knows how long, a couple years for sure by
that time we closed the deal to purchase the store. It belonged to a woman named Molly
Parker. She had dropped off her Fuji road bike for service, and been called many times
to pick up her finished repair. The notes listed at least 8 or 10 attempts to encourage her
to get this bike out of the store. It occupied the 15 cubic feet every assembled bicycle
does and had become an albatross like fixture of the shop.
Now, we could have sold this non-descript road bike as abandoned. There were times I
had to move it to get at something it was blocking. I am sure many an employee had
tripped over it as well and it likely caused a scratch or two on new bikes over the years.
Yet it lived in the basement of the store. I was determined to get my money out of it as it
had been listed on our original purchase agreement.
We owned the store until 2001 when business conditions and the obtuse building owner
forced our hand. The decision to close was made, the date set for our being out of the
building and the notice painted across the front widows, big and bold:
STORE CLOSING SALE -
EVERYTHING MUST GO.
Bicycle retail was changing and we were spent. I believe that the both the other business'
in town and regular customers were stunned. The bike store would be gone.
The last day of retail was scheduled to be around March 20th, with an auction to end it
all and remove the last vestiges of the little bike store at 229 Water Street. We needed
to be out before April 1 to avoid the burden of a new and very expensive lease.
Aprils Fools Day.
In retrospect, the date slated for final operation was very appropo, all things considered.
For us, that was a full 7 years of bicycle retail. 364 plus weeks of running a small business
which I was never really able to make pop. It wasn't for lack of trying but more as a result
of decisions made and just as likely, losing focus.
Perhaps it was also the numbers. While on paper they looked good and profitable. There
certainly was enough inventory to make it fly. We had not invested in any tools or fixtures
as there were multiples of both. We were careful with our dollars, but not not enough so.
I can attribute some if it to the former owners lack of clarity. They had worked for free.
Their time was never posted to the payroll. Endless hours in the off season. One or two,
no cost bodies for the innumerable days when no business was transacted. Merlene was
half owner and spouse of Bill. She had cable TV, piles of books to read, crocheting
or knitting (something of that sort) filling her days. She had her cat and dog for company.
And, she did take care of the occasional customer. Merlene knew enough about bicycles
and the business to field telephone inquiries for various products and services the store
offered. She could also do some of the operational things inherent in a retail store,
but mostly she was just there. Her time at no expense to the store.
Bill came in after after school. You see, he was a teacher and came after about 4 PM to
work for a few hours. Each Saturday and all summer Bill worked full time in the store.
Sure, they had some employees and service staff, but 60 to 80 hours a week of off the
books, free employee time was certainly a good way to make a business fly.
Now back to the Fuji repair and the tale of Molly Parker.
We started to bring goods from the basement and various cubby holes, everything had
to move. The skiis and bicycles, both new and used had to go We sold some of the
service tools and clothing racks. The display cabinets and slatwall hooks. We sold the
clothing, which would have yielded a better tax deduction from donating it than we
realized by selling it. It was amazing what actually moved in those final days.
But what to do with the Fuji repair? A standing joke and the dollars tied up in it. A
physical entity with a receivable entry still the books. It was hung it up in the area
formerly occupied by the more current repairs while its fate was to be determined.
Two or three days before we closed the doors for good, a mature woman came into
the store. Someone I did not recognize as being a regular customer for sure. She wore
a spring hat adorned with flowers, and had a print dress on. Not a bicyclist as one would
envision. As the store closing sale was in full swing there were many people coming and
going, all looking for the bargains when a business closes its's doors. New faces were
definitely the norm.
I often wondered where all these people shopped when the store really needed them?
This woman did not look about the place, but came directly up to the checkout area.
"I've come to retrieve my repaired bicycle. I hope you still have it because it's been here
for a while", she quipped.
There were a few bicycles hanging around that had collected a bit of dust, so her request
really did not set off any particular bells.
I went to the file with repair tickets, looked up, and ask her name.
"Molly Parker, and my bike is a Fuji".
My jaw dropped.
It was her. The Molly Parker of store legend, standing there as casually as if she were
picking up a repaired bicycle dropped off just a day or two earlier.
She assumed it was still in our hands and pulled a check book from her purse as I
gathered myself. Without skipping a beat, I pulled the pin from her repair tag, which
now occupied a special place on the cork board, rang up the repair and told her the
total amount of her bill.
I mentioned that I really had thought she didn't exist after the many attempts to reach
her, both before and after we bought the place. Or that she had moved out of the area.
Or that she just didn't want the bike, as the bill was equivalent to about 60% of the
But there she stood there, patiently waiting for her bike to come from the mothballs.
I told her it would be a few minutes as I made the bike ready to ride once again. I pulled
it from the storage hooks, wiped it down, loaded the tires with air, ran through the gears
and squeezed the brakes. We hadn't done the repair during my tenure, so I wanted to
make sure this storied bicycle was mechanically sound when I delivered it to its rightful,
We exchanged some additional pleasantries, she signed and dated her check and walked
out of the store, into the ether of Excelsior from which she had appeared. I cannot say for
certain whether this was the final repair to leave the store, but I do know that Molly Parker,
picking up her repaired Fuji, did allow me to close out one entry on the balance sheet from
the original purchase of Area Wide Cycle.
I wonder if I should have charged her for storage?