Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE) – A Knoxville staple is closing after the pandemic made it difficult to keep them open. Greenlee’s Bike Shop has been in business since 1899, which means it’s over 100 years old.
Conrad Majors became the owner when his grandfather died. He was only 15 years old. “My grandmother ran the shop while I was in school and throughout my studies,” Majors told 6 On Your Side’s Tearsa Smith in 2018.
Well, about a year after talking with Majors, he sold his building and business to Steve and Carol Rich. The Riches knew nothing about bikes, but they were willing to take on that side of the business.
Although they had only lived in Knoxville for a little over 10 years, they quickly learned of Greenlee’s rich history.
“Probably 75% of people who walk into the bike shop say, ‘Oh yeah, I bought my first bike here when I was five,’ or ‘My mom or grandma brought me here and bought a bike.'” Steve Rich said.
He also knew some interesting little facts about the building itself, as well as the majors – but, when The Rich’s took over the business, it was just before the pandemic hit. They may have only seen a boom at first, but it didn’t last long.
Business was not bad. Customers kept coming for repairs or to buy a bike. That wasn’t the problem, first they had no more bikes to sell.
“I had 15 at the start of the season, and I got them by accident. My supplier, I happened to call him, and he said, ‘I have a order that another guy has had for a year and a half. He said he decided not to take them. So if you want them, you can have them. So, I took these 15 bikes” said Steve Rich.
He said he typically orders 20 bikes about five to seven times a year. “Not this year. I have an order this year. That’s all I could get,” he said.
Carol Rich said the bike half of the store was often busy when it came to repairs. She and her husband said they had the best repairman in Knoxville, Bill Nichols. After bikes were hard to come by, parts followed soon after.
“Sometimes we just couldn’t find them, or we could find just that size or just that size. And I knew to go elsewhere to buy tubes for us because we must have them. A little guy comes in with a flat tire and he needs his bike,” said Carol Rich.
They knew it was a lingering effect of the pandemic: a supply chain issue.
“Restrictions on masks and all that kind of stuff are loosening up, but not the supply chain. The supply chain is going to be another year behind, and so that means waiting another whole year before we can start buying bikes again and we can’t do that,” said Steve Rich.
Because they weren’t getting the supplies they needed to fix the bikes, they ran into another problem: not enough work for their repairman.
Carol Rich said Nichols only planned to stay with them for two years before retiring, but not having enough work gave him all the more reason to keep his promise. “If we could get parts, we would have to find a mechanic and he would be very, very difficult to replace,” she said.
The other half of Greenlee is The Mower Shop. Steve Rich said this side of the business has had its slow days, but overall it’s been pretty good during the pandemic. So much so that for the past year and a half, money from The Mower Shop has been subsidizing losses on the bike side.
The Riches said it was not an easy decision to close the bike shop. Carol Rich said the only upside is that Majors didn’t have to be the one closing it down. “He said to me, ‘oh no, that wouldn’t have been a problem.’ I don’t think so. You can’t be part of this business for all these years and not regret closing it,” she said.
The Rich’s plan is to keep some of Greenlee’s memories alive. The whole storefront does not close. They will expand The Mower Shop so that it takes up the entire store.
They are also planning to remodel the exterior so that the exterior returns to its original glory. In addition, it will remain a family business.
“It’s a family business. Just like Conrad’s family was part of the bike shop, The Mower Shop, our son, our daughter-in-law and Steve and I,” Carol Rich said.
The bike shop will officially close on November 1.
Wealthy said the name “Greenlee’s Bike Shop” is copyrighted, so the name might live on, and maybe, but in a different place and with different owners.
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