Once every youngster’s paradise, it’s now nothing more than rubble.
Middletown Schwinn, which opened in 1969 and was sold in 1991, recently was demolished, leaving a pile of bricks where Christmas lists were filled.
If you grew up in this area during the bicycling boom, you probably remember Middletown Schwinn, and if you were really lucky, you rode a Schwinn, the BMW of bikes. But those days are just memories now, and that’s OK with Jerry Gillespie, whose family owned and operated the business at the corner of Verity Parkway and Second Street.
“It’s just a building,” said Gillespie, 66, a retired Fairfield Freshman School industrial arts teacher. “Times change, you know. It’s a fond memory and good people.”
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Those people included the owner, James “Big Jim” Gillespie Jr.; his wife, Dee, the book keeper; and their three children: Jerry, Jimmy and Alice Root. It was a family business, this Middletown Schwinn.
The Gillespies opened a bike shop on State Street in Trenton then moved it to Middletown. When Gillespie wanted to open a Schwinn franchise, Eddie Schwinn, president of bike company, came to Middletown and toured and inspected the dilapidated building that once served as a brewery warehouse along the Miami Erie Canal. After walking around, Schwinn told Gillespie: “This a wreck. This can’t be done. Don’t do this.”
That was all Gillespie, a senior engineer at Armco, needed: A challenge.
“Why did you have to tell him that?” Dee Gillespie reportedly told Schwinn.
For the next 22 years, Eddie Schwinn was proved wrong one bike at a time.
Alice Root said she was most impressed by how her father, who died in 2003, revamped the outside of the building, making sure the showroom full of shiny bikes was visible to those driving on Verity Parkway.
“His dream was to have a business,” she said. “As it turned out, it was a smart way for grown-ups to have a hobby.”
Root only worked in the bike shop a few summers when she was attending college in Tennessee.
“I could sell some bikes, but I had a hard time fixing them,” said Root, 68, who lives in Port Clinton.
The repairs were left up to her brother, Jimmy, who died in 1997. For him, repairs came as easy as riding. If you had a problem, Jimmy had a solution.
“My brother could fix anything,” Jerry said. “It was great to have a brother keep your bike running. He could do anything to a bicycle. He was the main man.”
Jerry Gillespie remembered one particular Christmas season when the family sold hundreds of bikes and about 100 of them — all assembled — were picked up from layaway on Christmas Eve.
“I built me some bikes,” he said.
The boys got their work ethic from their father. Gillespie ate lunch every day with a sandwich in one hand and a dirty screwdriver in the other. He understood the “lunch” part, just not the “break” part.
“He wouldn’t stop for 20 minutes,” Gillespie said of his father. “It gave me a love for mechanical things that I otherwise would not have had. You know, looking back, it was at cool growing up in a bike shop.”