Remembering Chris Bike Shop
By Gary Swilik
A bicycle was once every kid's standard mode of transportation. Whether you had a brand-new Schwinn with chrome fenders, whitewall tires, fancy handlebar grips with streamers, a front basket and battery-powered lights, or a used bike cobbled together from older models, it was your ticket to freedom! If this era lives in your memories, you might recall Chris Bike Shop on Lorain Avenue which served West Park for over three decades.
“I remember it well,” says Debbie Hendricks of Corona, California. “All my bikes came from Chris Bike Shop. The first bike I got was a Schwinn with a banana seat. Later I got a ten-speed there, too. You went no where but Chris Bike Shop for a bike!”
“We all went to Chris Bike Shop,” agrees Gary A. Hudak of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “As a youngster I often went to Chris Bike Shop to get my tire fixed,” says Leo E. Pettry of Cleveland.
“My Grandpa, John Resso, bought my brother his first bike from Chris Bike Shop,” recounts Barbara Resso Sharp of Wadsworth, Ohio. “It was a surprise for my brother's birthday. This was about 1962. He was only six or seven at the time. I think it was a re-furbished Schwinn. A boy’s bike, blue and totally cool! I remember being in the store and admiring all the shiny bikes. It was something awesome my Grandpa did for my brother.”
“Chris had minibike frames and motors. Everything you needed to build your own,” recalls Tony Prosowski of Cleveland. “I’d go in every couple of weeks for parts to add to my mini neighborhood noise maker. It was a mom-and-pop shop. They were friendly and knowledgeable, always ready to answer questions, such as what clutch or throttle to use.”
“I remember looking in the window at all the new bikes hanging from the ceiling and lined up on the floor,” reminiscences Joe Brasty of Strongsville. “They always had the coolest new bikes and parts in stock. Chris was the best! He treated you well even on a small sale. He was an honest businessman and a truly generous and knowledgeable man.”
Chris Bike Shop was owned by Chris, Jr., and Betty Steimle, for whom it was both a business and labor of love. Their eldest son, Chris Steimle III, of Middleburg Heights, tells us how his parents met and started the shop.
“My father’s grandparents came to Cleveland from Germany,” says Chris. “My dad was born here in 1927 and grew up on Cleveland’s East Side. My mom came from a family of seven children and grew up at West 99th and Almira Avenue. They met during at a dance at the Aragon Ballroom on West 25th. They were married in 1946 at Petersburg, Virginia, while my dad was in the army at nearby Camp Lee.” The Steimles later went on to raise a family of three sons and a daughter.
“My father was an enterprising man who loved to keep busy,” Chris explains. “He started out in my grandparents’ basement on Benham Avenue in the 1940s while still a teenager. He’d buy old bikes from the junkyard and rebuild them himself. He’d scrape and repaint the frame. wire brush the rims, replace the brakes, re-spoke and align the wheels – create virtually a new bike. Of course, he couldn’t sell them as new.”
“In the 1950s he moved his business into a commercial building at the corner of East 93rd and Benham Avenue,” Chris continues. “I have some nice memories of that old neighborhood. In 1961 my dad opened the West Side store at 12224 Lorain Avenue and we moved into a nice four-bedroom apartment over the shop. The street was busy but you got used to the noise. If you got bored you could look out the front window at Lorain or sit on the front stoop. The bus stop and mailbox were right across the street from us.”
“From 1961 to 1964 my parents kept the East Side store open at the same time,” says Chris. “This was in addition to Dad’s job at the railroad. And he usually worked the all-night shift. He hated to be idle but I don’t know how he did it all.”
“My Mom was a big part of the business,” Chris tells us. “Her given name was ‘Elizabeth’ but she didn’t like it and always went by ‘Betty.’ She ran the East Side shop by herself for awhile. Dad would go over and pick her up each evening, pick up any repair work she’d taken in, and drop off the work he’d finished the night before. She was a bookkeeper and excellent typist. She had the gift of gab and could get along with anyone. Customers would come in just to talk with her and ask her advice.”
“Once a guy came into the shop on Lorain while Mom was the only one there,” reveals Chris. “He had a bad back and asked if someone could get a power mower out of his car trunk. Mom came out, reached in, lifted the mower out of the trunk and set it on the street. The guy was flabbergasted.”
“When I was young we had lots of walk-in business,” recalls Chris. “Dad offered new and used bikes, parts, accessories, mini-bikes and repair service. It was a complete all-service bike shop. Lots of kids came in.”
Indeed, the author remembers pedaling up to Chris Bike Shop with friends several times in a single day to buy decals for our bikes. We plastered colorful decals of rockets, monsters, fierce lions and tigers – and the ever popular flaming skull – all over our bikes in a competition to see who could attract the most attention.
“I remember those decals,” laughs Chris. “My Dad displayed them high on the shop wall just inside the door. Each decal was numbered and we had a file behind the counter with corresponding numbered envelopes.”
“The business changed with the rise of the big discount stores,” Chris explains. “A lot of the walk-in business dried up when Kmart opened with their tremendous buying power. That kind of put an end to new bike sales for my Dad. He still sold and repaired bikes but, he began to rely more on sharpening and repairing lawn mowers, and doing welding for customers. He’d learned the skill as a young man and could do any kind of welding you needed.”
“At the end of a long day,” Chris tells us. “my dad liked to fire up the grill and cook pork chops, steaks, hamburgers or hot dogs on the patio behind the building. He loved to cook out with friends and family.”
“Dad retired from the railroad in 1989,” says Chris. “My parents finally closed the bike shop in 1993 and moved to Middleburg Heights. He kept his tools and equipment in a three-car garage out back where he planned on doing some work in his retirement. Unfortunately that didn’t happen due to some health problems.”
After 58 years of marriage, Chris Steimle passed away in 2005 at the age of 77. His wife Betty joined him when she died at 85 years of age in 2011.
“I think my parents missed their shop and the many friends who would stop in,” says their son Chris. “I feel very fortunate to have so many wonderful memories of the bike shop and the West Park neighborhood where I grew up.
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