GENEVA – Elis Giannini looked up sadly from his lawn chair and stared in the direction of State Street. He said Geneva used to be full of ma-and-pa shops.
“You didn’t refer to the store by its name, but rather the owner,” Giannini explained. “Oh, we’re going to the Danielson’s or the Scoglin’s,” he said with heavy nostalgia in his gruff voice.
“I’ve been on this … corner all my life,” Giannini said, referring to his bicycle shop, Geneva Cycle, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next April.
Giannini and his bicycle shop, at 12 E. State St., represents a generation that, according to Giannini, was less intoxicated with the desire for instant gratification than today’s society. The 74-year-old works by himself and only opens his shop for about 25 hours a week. He said a lot of his bicycles are not made, gesturing to a back room packed with boxes waiting to be assembled. Giannini said if he does not have a customer’s size or model built, he will work into the morning to complete the bicycle. But he said that tomorrow is sometimes not soon enough for today’s customers.
However, the Geneva native did not always sell bicycles to Tri-City-area and other customers. Giannini got his business background selling motorbikes.
At 17, Giannini moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Giannini’s interest in motorbikes grew after his friends and he spent hours riding a Harley Hummer over dirt construction hills near a new dorm the college was building, he said.
After flunking out and moving to a New Hampshire school, he discovered ice racing, he said.
“I heard this ‘braaap’ ‘braaap,’ and they were having an ice race on the [bloody] lake!” Giannini said. “I saw all those New Hampshire farmers racing around, and I thought, ‘I can do that.’ ”
The second time Giannini raced, he placed second in the New England Ice Racing Championship, he said. He raced on and off in all levels of competition until he was 65.
In 1965, Giannini opened his shop in the same building that he resides in now, which he bought in 1976 for $130,000. He said his plan was to become a Ducati dealer in order to get discounts on motorbike parts.
As for selling bicycles, “I was tricked into it,” Giannini said chuckling.
Giannini inquired about getting a few personal bicycles from one his of motorbike distributors. The distributor also gave him 10 bicycles that he could choose to sell or return after three months.
With the addition of the Fox River bicycle trail fostering bicycle appreciation and increase in demand, Giannini sold 30 bicycles in 90 days. From then on, he changed his business plan, and he now sells bicycles from Fuji, Raleigh and KHS.
Giannini said he enjoys working on bicycles and teaching people about how they work. He also said he buys older models and sells them at competitive prices, saying “that’s the niche I have found and exploited.”
He said he tries to educate customers on what they are looking for and what type of bicycle will meet their need, and he said this is what sets him apart from the shops with “shiny floors and big glass walls.”
“The ma-and-pa shops cared about you … it’s the kind of shop that was cool, when I started racing,” Giannini said.
Giannini said the ma-and-pa structure and relaxed atmosphere at his shop allows him to run the business on his own terms and makes him and – he hopes – customers comfortable. He said it is like the kind of shop members of his generation went to when they needed reliable service or products.
He still gets in around 100 miles a week on the bicycle, Giannini said, grinning at his artificial knees. With an artificial shoulder and titanium plates in his face to match, Giannini said his long-term goal was to stay healthy and avoid crashing.
“I don’t see myself doing this at 80, but – you know – I said that when I was 55 about retiring at 60 years old,” Giannini said.
If you go
What: Geneva Cycle
Where: 12 E. State St., Geneva