Edwin “Skip” Flythe Jr. had planned to pass on his family’s bicycle shop to one of his children. But after his son died suddenly in 2013, he lost interest in the business and now plans to close.
Edwin “Winn” Flythe III had worked with his father for nearly 16 years and had planned to keep Flythe Cyclery on Peace Street in downtown Raleigh running long after his father retired.
With his son gone, Flythe, 68, will retire at the end of August. He will shutter one of Raleigh’s oldest bike shops almost exactly 70 years after it opened.
“Generation after generation has come in,” Flythe said. “We’re so grateful for all of the families that have bought here over the years.”
Flythe said he always liked riding bikes but was never an avid cyclist. For him, it was fun to own a business and work with his family, especially his son who was a talented mechanic and handyman.
“(Winn) would touch something once, and that would be it,” Flythe said.
Flythe’s other son, Todd, lives in Northern Virginia and works in information technology.
Since Winn’s death, Flythe said the shop’s managers have handled day-to-day operations.
Flythe said he decided to close the shop and sell the building just as the state Department of Transportation gears up to replace the nearby Capital Boulevard bridges.
The .56-acre property is zoned to accommodate a 12-story building and is being marketed as a mixed-use opportunity selling for about $3 million, according to Carolantic Realty.
The downstairs tenant, skate shop Endless Grind, plans to stay until the building is sold.
The early days
Flythe Cyclery dates back to the early 1920s, when Flythe’s grandfather, Wade C. Lewis, opened The Lewis Sporting Goods Company on Salisbury Street downtown. The store sold toys and bicycles, made keys, repaired small engines and serviced guns.
When Flythe’s father returned from World War II, Lewis gave him the business. The shop’s name was changed to Flythe Sales and Service, and a grand opening was held in August 1946.
As a boy, Flythe worked in his father’s shop sweeping floors and assembling toys. As he got older, he learned other skills, including how to repair engines.
“We worked on everything,” Flythe said.
He loved setting up the shop’s window displays, especially for Christmas, hoping to help entice passersby to stop in.
“Dad knew all the people, and at Christmastime they came and bought everything we had,” Flythe said.
If customers didn’t have a place to hide a new bicycle or toy from their children’s curious eyes, Flythe’s father would hide it in his own home’s garage.
Flythe continued the tradition, allowing patrons to come pick up their purchases on Christmas Eve and greeting them with warm drinks while dressed in a Santa Claus costume.
Lecture from Dad
Eventually, Flythe shifted the company’s focus to bicycles. Raleigh customers were drooling over newly imported French bikes with names like Gitane and Peugeot, he said.
He first encountered the imported bikes at a shop in Greensboro in the 1960s. When he arrived, Flythe said, he had to battle through a crowd of more than 30 people to snap up one of the last bikes the dealer had. He paid $60 – a lot of money back then.
The price tag earned Flythe a lecture from his father about wasting the company’s money on ugly bikes. He got a second lecture after the bike sold for double what he paid within hours of being in the shop.
“He said, ‘Son, you better get in the car and find out where they’re coming from,’ ” Flythe recalled.
In the years that followed, Flythe Cyclery became the largest Peugeot dealer in the country, importing thousands of bikes at a time and supplying four Raleigh shops with bicycles, he said.
The store moved to Peace Street in the 1970s, occupying the former space of Charlie’s Hot Dogs, which sold franks steamed in beer.
As the bike shop prepares to close, Flythe is hosting a going-out-of-business sale to clear out the inventory.
Charlie Upton, who has been shopping at Flythe Cyclery since he moved to Raleigh in 1988, he said he will miss the place.
“It’s the only one I go to,” he said. “You feel like you’re in a good place when you come in here. They know what they’re doing.”
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi