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Wheels Bicycle Shop, 1755 Grand Avenue, 1974 to 1982

My dad, Alan, started selling bicycles out of our front room at our house at 1405 College Avenue in the summer of 1973 while he was teaching English at Parkside. My mom, Mary Anne, remembers how we got the fourplex at 1753-1755 Grand:

Mama and Wheels"Then Alan heard about Walter Smolenski having Mr. Zelewski's building for sale, and that Mr. Z would take $7,500 for it, which seemed like a buy for two store fronts and two apartments and garages big enough for five cars. Walter said the price was $8000, Alan said that he had heard that Zelewski would take $7,500, Walter said that Zelewski should keep his mouth shut - they took the $7,500, and we got a loan for part of it from Bank of Elmwood at $200 per month. That was probably 1973."

My brother and I loved to run around in the back rooms of this big fourplex because it used to be several separate buildings that had been joined together with a common roof and back and side walls. For instance, the back of the 1753 building still had basement windows set into the floor of the garage that joined the backs of 1753 and 1755. You could crawl down through these windows into the basement of 1753. 1753 had been a grocery store, and still had a room with a big, thick, wooden door on it that had been the walk-in refrigerator.

Wheels: Bicycles of Fine QualityI remember the first few days after we opened the bike store and the neighborhood kids had just started to discover it. My dad was trying to answer all their questions, fix bikes, and show potential tenants the two apartments on the top floor.

Eventually we had enough business to hire bike mechanics, Kevin Parco and later, Danny Werwe. I believe that Danny Werwe raced his bike in the Kenosha Bicycle Bowl. I turned ten while I was hanging out there after school and I remember the mechanics teasing me, saying that now I was in the "double digits" that it was all over.

Bicycle repair classMy dad would work at Parkside during the day, and then spend the rest of his time at the bike shop, putting together new bikes and fixing old bikes. He also taught a class at Parkside on bike repair, and would sometimes bring his students to Wheels for a class.

Eventually, it took so much time to run the bike store and to be landlords that my mom and dad closed up the store and converted it to an apartment. My mom thinks that we spent less time working and got more profit out of renting an apartment. Still, Wheels Bicycle Shop was a great place for a Racine kid to grow up.

After being sold, this building was torn down in the Spring of 2003.

More History of this Building

We rented the 1753 storefront to the Village Smithy, which sold handmade jewelry. They used the walk-in refrigerator as a kind of safe. The Village Smith later moved to S. Main Street, downtown.

Both storefronts had wonderful pressed tin ceilings.

Here's the listing for the grocery store that used to be in the 1753 store front, owned by Walter Zalewski, from the June 1940 Racine Telephone directory. And here's the listing for the drug store that was in the 1755 store front, where we had our bike shop. It says, "Home Pharmacy, A. E. Dziekan R PH Proprietor, 1755 Grand Ave., Jackson-6197."
I imagine that Walter Zalewski and A E Dziekan lived in the apartments above their stores and had a very short commute to work, just down the back or front stairs. When we bought this building, one of the garages on the side was filled with heavy posters from the 1940s advertising toothpaste and so forth. Most of the posters had had mustaches drawn on them, and my brother and I thought they were very funny. In the attic above the garages, someone had built a very well-equipped club house for kids. It looked like a lot of kids had had a lot of fun there. Maybe they were Zalewski and Dziekan kids.

When I was in Racine recently, I was going through the newspaper microfilms for 1908 and accidentally came across this ad:

November 25, 1908

Grand Ave. Meat Market

Corner Grand Ave. and 18th St., has a choice lot of poultry and fine home made mince meat. Everyone surely will be duly thankful if they have some of our poultry and mince pie for their Thanksgiving dinner. We cordially invite you to call or telephone your order and the same will be delivered promptly.

Olin. Phone 1472-y Wis. 726



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