Gregg’s Cycle — The Life and Story of 80 Years in Business
By Samantha Shimogawa
If you have ever been to Bellevue, Wash., you have probably seen Gregg’s Cycle on Bellevue Way, which features a beautiful two-story glass wall with 42 bikes on display. This elegant storefront, however, is not just stunning to look at, but is also the largest bicycle shop on the Eastside, taking up a massive 12,000 square feet. Looking at the modern structure, it’s hard to conceive that Gregg’s actually began as a small business in Seattle’s Greenlake neighborhood, and it is utterly fascinating to realize just how far it has come since its inception 80 years ago. As a way to commemorate this feat, they are planning an old-fashioned community picnic at the Greenlake store this summer, “some weekend from late July to August,” according to Stan Gregg, current owner of Gregg’s Cycle. It will feature a street fair-type atmosphere and barbecue, and will be a fun event with free food for anyone who would like to celebrate, soak up the sun, and have some fun.
Original owner and founder, Ray Vincent (R.V.) Gregg certainly could not have known how much his company would achieve when he first opened up Gregg’s Greenlake Cycle in 1932. Though originally from Minnesota, he and his family had moved to Saskatchewan, Canada, where he farmed wheat, and probably would have remained in this occupation had the farming economy not fallen on hard times in the late ‘20s. However, fate would not have it, and Gregg decided to move to Seattle with his wife and five children to find a new way to support his family. Understanding that the country was steeped in the Great Depression and that people would therefore need inexpensive entertainment, he came up with the idea of renting bikes. In 1932 he opened a rental shop in Greenlake, charging five cents an hour. This activity was the main source of Gregg’s revenue in the early years and remains popular to this day thanks in part to a once dirt three-mile path nearby that circles Greenlake. During the 30’s and 40’s they even sold cotton candy and popcorn and operated a jukebox repair business out of the Greenlake location — as it turns out, his business became quite the hangout!
In 1952, R.V.’s sons, Max Gregg and his younger brother, Harry, purchased the company just before R.V. passed away from cancer. Later, after Harry left the business to become a doctor, Max bought Harry’s interest and became the company’s sole proprietor until early 1975, when the current owner, Stan Gregg, and his cousin, Bob Gregg, purchased the business from their uncle and his wife Blanche. The purchase included the current Greenlake Cycle building as well as the building across Woodlawn Ave. to the east. The Gregg cousins were anxious to expand their business and made the decision in late 1976 to open a Kawasaki motorcycle shop in the Woodlawn building. An existing BMW motorcycle dealership (BMW of Seattle) was later purchased and moved to the Greenlake store. In early 1979, Stan and Bob decided to divide their business interests with Stan keeping the bicycle store and Bob taking over the motorcycle business. Stan and his wife Judy then became full owners of Gregg’s Cycle.
“That was a big moment for both of us because I think we both wanted to have our own businesses and independence,” Stan explains. “We negotiated an amicable division and now joke that our negotiations were pretty simple: We used the center line of Woodlawn Avenue to divide the business assets! It was a friendly split and we have remained friends to this day.”
In the spirit of expansion, Stan opened Gregg’s Lynnwood Cycle in 1980, but sold it after one year to the then manager of the Greenlake store, Harvey Morris. In 1983, and after testing the Bellevue market by operating a bicycle department within a sporting goods store there, Stan expanded again, opening Gregg’s Bellevue Cycle on the southeast corner of Bellevue Square. This was a joint venture with the owners of Redmond Cycle, Dennis and Marie Estrin (Stan’s sister), whose interest was later repurchased in the early ‘90s by Stan. This original location was outgrown in one year’s time and the store relocated about three blocks south at the Bellevue Plaza Shopping Center. It was moved yet again to a larger 4,800-square-foot space within the center in 1996. Told that Bellevue Plaza was slated to be sold around 2006, Stan began what became a five-year project to find a new location, resulting in the first Gregg’s that was specifically designed and built to be a bike shop. The new 12,000-square-foot store found just two blocks south of Bellevue Square was designed by cyclist and Seattle architect Henry Weinstein, and built by Foushee, Inc. It includes many rider friendly features such as an oversize elevator, widened stairways, and, as with all Gregg’s locations, employee showers, lockers and bike storage to encourage bicycle commuting. The Bellevue building also received a National Architectural Association design award for innovative retail store design and just celebrated its 5th year anniversary, exceeding expectations by accounting for more than 30 percent of the company’s total revenue.
The Gregg’s story also involves Aurora Cycle, which was founded in 1938 by the McAllisters and grew to become a successful family business. In 1986, Jim McAllister, ready to retire, decided to sell his bike store to Stan and they negotiated a contract with a 20-year lease that was signed on December 31 of that year. Though located only a short mile west of the Greenlake location, the Aurora store had been the largest and nearest competitor to the Gregg’s Greenlake store, so the purchase seemed to make good sense. For the next twenty years, the Aurora store prospered as it served the North Seattle cycling community. However, in 2006, when the lease was to be expired, McAllister informed Stan that he would not be able to renew it. Stan had to decide either to move or to close down the store. Facing the continuing challenge of competing with the larger Greenlake location, he decided that moving the Aurora store further north would be the best strategy, and he thus relocated to Lynnwood, a few blocks north of the Alderwood Mall. The 6200-square-foot store opened in February 2007 and, though smaller than the other locations, it has hundreds of bikes on display and plenty of free parking as well as the experienced staff from the old Aurora location. A nearby bike trail is an added benefit, which is perfect for test rides. Gregg’s Alderwood Cycle now accounts for approximately 20 percent of Gregg’s total sales.
At the same time that Aurora Cycle was being relocated, Gregg’s Greenlake was undergoing a major facelift, with nearly half of the original structure being torn down and replaced with 10,000 square feet of new retail, service and storage space. This construction project made it possible for the first time since the ‘60s for all of the Greenlake store’s operations to be housed under one roof, resulting in both greater efficiencies and improved customer service. The shop is now one of the largest retail bicycle stores in the U.S. This spacious facility has also allowed Gregg’s to come “full circle” by reintroducing bicycle rentals. In the period preceding these nearly simultaneous projects, Stan questioned himself, “Should I retire or should I keep going?” He, of course, decided to push on and bring things up another level.
Today, Gregg’s Cycle logs over 150,000 transactions per year online and in the retail stores. It has made Bicycle Retailer and Industry News’ top 100 U.S. bicycle shops list for the past 25 years and has also been recognized as a National Bicycle Dealers Association “Silver Star Dealer” for being one of the top 30 rated shops in America. Additionally, it’s been voted the “Best Bicycle Shop in Western Washington” for the past three years in King 5’s Best of Western Washington poll.
“The quality of our senior staff and management group is the primary reason we are successful,” asserts Stan. “We have some really experienced and dedicated employees that make it all work. This success wouldn’t be possible without these people.” Furthermore, he gives invaluable praise to his wife Judy, saying, “She’s been ‘all in’ the entire time, and is a perceptive advisor and a great partner. Whenever I’ve had doubts or am contemplating new business possibilities, I talk with her and we come up with a plan.”
As for the future of Gregg’s Cycle, Stan says, “If you’re not improving, you’re stagnating. That is a truism in business. I’m not sure at this point in my life what is in my future.” However, if an opportunity to further develop and build the business arose, he says he would definitely consider it. At the same time, he’s also happy with the current size of the company, calling it a “big-small business,” which allows the stores to support a high quality management and staff team that would be more difficult for a smaller operation to assemble and maintain.
As he reminisces on the last 80 years of Gregg’s Cycles’ history and the potential of the future, Stan says contentedly, “It’s been a fun ride and I am counting on adding a few more miles on this journey. There is so much to enjoy about this business — cycling is beneficial to our environment and is a wonderful activity that can be both exciting and tranquil, and provides physical and spiritual benefits as well. We enjoy sponsoring and supporting cycling events and bicycle teams and other things that can be done to raise public awareness of the benefits of cycling. It has also been particularly rewarding to see so many students over the years earn their degrees while working at our stores and go on to have successful and wide ranging careers. Our proximity to several colleges and flexible work hour policy has both contributed to this result.” With such a long track record and no end in sight, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Gregg’s Cycle has many, many more miles to go.
For more information on the company and its 80th anniversary celebration, stop by any of the store locations or visit their website at greggscycles.com.