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The wrong place but the right time for a bicycle shop

June 15, 2011

 
About 40 years ago when three Starkville couples were contemplating opening a bicycle store, a Dallas bicycle distributor assessed the situation: “You’ll be in the 'wrong place,' but at the 'right time.'" The ‘wrong place’ was a small college town in Mississippi where most residents still thought of the bicycle as a child’s toy, not a means of recreation and transportation.
 
The early 1970s was the leading edge of the "bicycle boom" - a phenomenon fostered by rising environmental awareness and a new emphasis on fitness and exercise which was "the right time." To make the "right time" especially "right," an Arab oil boycott soon led to shortages and rising gas prices. The first-time telecasting of Olympic bicycle racing in 1972 only added to the popular interest.
 
It was in a tin-roofed farm shed near the end of South Montgomery Street, miles outside the city limits of Starkville, that the Bicycle Shop had its meager origins in 1970. Boyd Gatlin started the bicycle repair shop that a year later had evolved into a thriving business less than a block off Main Street in downtown Starkville.
 
It might never have grown beyond the modest repair shop except for a chance meeting between Gatlin and MSU forester, Frank Troskey in early 1971. Gatlin presented a slide show and speech to the local Audubon Society in early 1971 about bicycle touring and camping. In the audience was Troskey. In a chat afterward, the idea of a full-scale retail bicycle shop came up, and Troskey said he was ready to pursue it. MSU engineering faculty member, Graham Wells, with whom Gatlin had previously discussed the idea of a store, was asked to join. By early fall, the three along with their wives had formed a partnership and purchased a building on North Lafayette Street.
 
By November 1971, the original shop had moved to the new location at 111 North Lafayette Street in downtown Starkville, taking in repairs and selling what new bicycles were available in a tight market. The nationwide demand for 10-speed bicycles--especially the lightweight models imported from Europe—was so great that supplies even in Starkville were limited. To complicate things, a strike by dockworkers in the nation nearly froze bicycle imports, forcing the new shop to purchase bikes that had been flown in at much higher cost.
 
But the shop's first Christmas gave the new business hope for longer success. Soon The Bicycle Shop became an authorized dealer for a number of European-made racing and touring bicycles, such as Gitane, and then the well-known English brand, Raleigh. But the new shop also had a line of American-made bicycles, including children's bikes and traditional adult single and three-speed models. Within a couple of years manufacturers and distributors had caught up with demand, which continued to grow.
The shop became a nucleus for a growing community of (mostly young) cyclists interested in racing and touring. The Starkville Freewheelers was formed to promote local races and tours, including the Century Run, a 100-mile casual ride around the Starkville area. Several Freewheelers entered races in other parts of the state, with Jackson, Greenville, and Indianola being the other communities in the state with active racing clubs. One Starkville resident, Wesley Parrish, even represented the state in a national championship race for junior competitors.
 
By 1973, The Bicycle Shop's business had grown enough so that the partnership expanded into a second building on North Lafayette St., and opened a store in downtown Columbus, on College St in a building once occupied by a car dealership. The Columbus shop later moved to a more visible location on US 82 on the east side of town, where it remained for many years under the management of Esther Troskey, wife of Frank.
 
In August 1974, founding partners the Gatlins sold their share of the business and moved out of town. The Troskeys then took over management of the business completely until the Starkville shop was sold to its present owner.
 
Boyd Gatlin remembers: "After deciding to open a retail sale and repair store, we considered several vacant locations in Starkville.  We settled on a building owned by L. L. Mullins, Sr., on North Lafayette Street.  The location downtown was good and the rent suited our startup budget.  I don't know what the building had been used for just before we rented it, but it may have been at one time one of Mullins' retail clothing stores.  We purchased some aged retail display cases from Mullins, and they remain in service at the current location of the shop.  We bought some wall shelving from Flowers by Joe Gordy, a Main Street business that had recently closed its doors.  Two doors up the hill from the shop was Mullins' Men's Wear, run by Glenn Mullins and known as 'Mullins Under the Hill,' since that block of N. Lafayette is on the steep slope of the ridge along which Main Street runs.  Right next door on the south side of the new shop location was Johnson Printing, which went out of business soon after we opened and provided us an opportunity to expand into the neighboring building.  Within the first two years of opening the shop, we purchased both buildings from Mr. Mullins. As I recall, on the north side of the shop was a frame and gift shop, and next to that, on the corner, was Cannon's Grocery, a small store where we went for snacks and the lunches we made and ate while working on bicycles.  Across the street, there was a record shop called Xanadu, where most of the 'longhairs' and 'hippies' of the day hung out. It smelled of incense and always had some fine'underground' and acid rock music playing.  Next to that was one of the three or four liquor stores in town (beer was illegal).  In keeping with the 'theme' of the block, there was a very trendy men's clothing store across the street called Beggars Banquet, apparently named for an album by the Rolling Stones. The big downside of the location was that it was a terrible place to let customers try out bicycles.  The hill was a hard climb for an experienced rider.  So, at some inconvenience, we took buyers to the parking lot behind the store, which was still far from ideal. In about 1975, after opening a second store in Columbus, the owners decided that the shop could efficiently occupy only one of the two buildings.  And so, the second building we had purchased was rented out to the Army-Navy Store, which remained there until moving to its current location on Highway 12."

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