KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Knoxville staple is closing its doors after the pandemic made it hard to keep them open. Greenlee’s Bike Shop has been in business since 1899, which means it’s more than 100 years old.
Conrad Majors became the owner when his grandfather died. He was just 15 years old. “My grandmother ran the shop while I was in school and all the way through college,” Majors told 6 On Your Side’s Tearsa Smith back in 2018.
Well, about a year after we spoke with Majors, he sold his building and his business to Steve and Carol Rich. The Rich’s didn’t know anything about bikes, but they were willing to take on that side of the business.
Although they had only been living in Knoxville for a little more than 10 years, they quickly learned the rich history behind Greenlee’s.
“Probably 75 percent of the people who come into the bike shop say, ‘oh yeah, I bought my first bike here when I was five years old,’ or, ‘my mother or grandmother brought me in here and bought a bike,'” Steve Rich said.
He also knew interesting little facts about the building itself, and also Majors — but, when The Rich’s took over the business was just before the pandemic hit. They might have only seen a boom at the beginning, but that didn’t last long.
Business wasn’t bad. Customers kept coming in for repairs or to buy a bike. That wasn’t the issue, first, they ran out of bikes to sell.
“I got 15 at the beginning of the season, and it was by accident that I got those. My supplier, I happened to call him, and he said, ‘I’ve got an order another guy’s had for a year and a half. He said he decided not to take them. So if you want them, you can have those.’ So, I took those 15 bikes,” Steve Rich said.
He said he usually orders 20 bikes about five to seven times a year. “Not this year. I’ve got one order this year. That’s all I’ve been able to get,” he said.
Carol Rich said the bike half of the shop is often busy when it comes to needing repairs. She and her husband said they have the best repairman in Knoxville, Bill Nichols. After bicycles were hard to come by, parts followed shortly after.
“Sometimes we just could not find them, or we could find just this size or just that size. And I have known to go other places to buy tubes for us because we gotta have them. A little guy comes in with a flat tire and he needs his bike,” Carol Rich said.
They knew it was a lingering effect of the pandemic: a supply chain issue.
“The mask restrictions and all that kind of stuff are loosening up, but the supply chain has not. The supply chain is going to be another year behind them, and so that means hanging on for another whole year before I can start getting bicycles again and we can’t do that,” Steve Rich said.
Because they weren’t getting the supplies they needed to repair bikes, they came across another issue: not enough work for their repairman.
Carol Rich said Nichols was planning to only stay with them for two years before retiring, but not having enough work gave him more of a reason to follow through with his promise. “If we could get parts, we would have to search for a mechanic and he would be very, very hard to replace,” she said.
The other half of Greenlee’s is The Mower Shop. Steve Rich said that side of the business has had its slow days, but overall it’s been pretty good through the pandemic. So much so, that for the last year and a half, The Mower Shop’s money has been subsidizing the losses over on the bike side.
The Rich’s said it wasn’t an easy decision to close the bike shop. Carol Rich said the only upside is Majors didn’t have to be the one to close it. “He tells me, ‘oh no, it wouldn’t have been a problem.’ I don’t believe that. You cannot be a part of this business for all of these years and not regret having it close,” she said.
The Rich’s plan is to keep some of the memories of Greenlee’s alive. The entire storefront isn’t closing. They’ll be expanding The Mower Shop so that it takes up the entire store.
They also plan to remodel the outside so the exterior is back to its original glory. Plus, it will remain a family business.
“This is a family business. Just like Conrad’s family was part of the bike shop, The Mower Shop, our son, daughter-in-law, and Steve and I,” Carol Rich said.
The bike shop will officially close on Nov. 1.
The Rich’s said the name ‘Greenlee’s Bike Shop’ is copyrighted, so the name could live on, and possibly might, but in a different location and with different owners.