Harris Cyclery, a West Newton landmark that served generations of bicyclists and their families, closed its doors June 13 after nearly 70 years due to the economic impact of the pandemic, according to the business’s founder.
In recent years, the store also faced increasing competition online, said Aaron “Sonny” Harris, who opened the shop in 1952.
In a phone interview, Harris, 88, said the decision to close the family-owned business was a hard one, but he looks back fondly on it being a touchstone for many people’s lives. He remembered young children coming into the store for their first bicycle and returning years later with their own families.
“We were trying to be the best we could, and we were,” Harris said. “The people coming in was the most fun in the world.”
Harris was working in his father’s West Newton store, A.J. Harris Hardware, when he decided to open the bicycle shop.
He started out running it from the hardware store and then moved the business to a few different locations in West Newton before finally settling in at 1353 Washington St., where the cyclery has been for decades.
“There has been a Harris in West Newton Square for over 100 years,” he said. “Not many people can say that.”
The staff fit bicycles for customers and made other tweaks, he said. Some families would arrive with young children who had never ridden a bicycle before; Harris and employees would help the kids learn to ride.
Those bonds lasted years.
“They rode because we showed them what to do,” Harris said. “And when they grew up, they were coming in for their kids. So it was generation after generation.”
All these good things, he said, “made it seem like we were doing things right.”
The retailer became well-known for its brick-and-mortar store and for becoming an early adopter of Internet sales, he said. Customers from virtually anywhere could contact Harris Cyclery in search of a specific part or answer to a question, and its website became a major part of its business.
“It looked like a lot of people were starting to order things online, and we were fortunate to be in that area at that particular time,” Harris said. “Sales were quite good for many, many years.”
But the pandemic’s impact on the store’s supply chain made it difficult to keep bicycles in stock. The store kept a bicycle repair business going, though some parts also were hard to get due to supply shortages, he said.
“You’re still paying overhead, and before you realize it, you’re paying every day [and] you’re losing money,” Harris said. “That’s why we closed; we couldn’t get the bicycles.”
Closing the business, he said, was like experiencing a death in the family.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Harris said. “I’m 88 years old, but I was still going in every day.”
A note on the store’s website the morning of June 9 thanked customers and employees for their support, and said goodbye.
“We do so with some sadness, but we do also without regrets. For seventy years, this family-owned business has served the bicycle riding community and it has been our pleasure,” the note said. “We’re proud of what our many thousands of loyal customers, both local and online, have allowed us to achieve over that time.”
In the message, members of the Harris family said they feel their reputation for value and integrity “was part of the universe of cycling in Boston’s western suburbs and beyond.”
Online, supporters praised the Harris family and some posted decades-old photos of themselves with bicycles from the store.
Jimmi Mahalares, an employee at the store, wrote on Sunday: “Sad this is my last day of work there, really enjoyed working with coworkers, the Harris family treated me amazing, they’re just Great People, the kind you just don’t seem to find these days.”
A poster on the Facebook group “All Over Newton” called the store a “class act” that will be hard to replace.
Its closure is “leaving a gaping hole in W. Newton Square and in the hearts of thousands of current and former Newton residents, who marked milestones with new bicycles from the Harris family,” the post said.
Another customer wrote: “It was one of the places in MA I was looking forward to visiting when we moved here 10 years ago.”
The store let customers know it was closing about a week before it shut its doors, and returned bicycles that had been under repair, Harris said. People shared their memories of the store, and what it meant to them.
“We had people with tears in their eyes, and by the time they were done talking with me, I had tears in my eyes also,” Harris said. “You just don’t give up [a business] and not feel something in your own heart.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.