Longtime bike seller, repairman not yet at end of trail
When Karl Tringhese of Southwest Greensburg started working in a bike shop in his native Johnstown as a teenager in the 1960s, there were no internet sales to keep customers at home if they wanted a bike, no super discount store down the highway that brought bikes in by the truckload.
Customers typically would go to local bike shops to buy their bicycles or to get them repaired and tuned up by people who knew the bikes. If they ordered a bike, it would be delivered to the local shop and assembled there, ready to ride.
The bespectacled, soft-spoken Tringhese, who will turn 75 in November, is contemplating retiring from the bicycle business in which he has spent his life.
“I don’t see that there is any future in it,” said Tringhese, who has owned Greensburg Cyclery at the corner of Brandon Street and Alexander Avenue in Southwest Greensburg since 1978.
“Bike shops are disappearing. They can’t compete directly” with the big stores, Tringhese said. “If you are starting out, you have to expand into something that Walmart doesn’t do.”
Tringhese gave up stocking new bicycles more than a decade ago, when competition from the big box stores, outdoor specialty stores and sporting goods stores became too much for an independent dealer. Customers often were seeking discount prices, not so much quality bicycles, he said.
Today, the bike showroom that once held new Schwinns, mountain bikes, trail bikes and hybrids, is filled with more than two dozen used bikes. Some are repairs he has done and are waiting to be picked up. Others are used bikes that customers no longer ride and have donated to be sold. Bicyclists still can buy accessories for their bikes, without any fancy displays.
Rather than stock inventory that can cost thousands of dollars, Tringhese has sold bikes on eBay since 2002. That has helped generate revenue, but not more customers coming through the door, he said.
“If you don’t sell new (bikes), you don’t get the new people coming in,” Tringhese said.
Tringhese’s plight as an independent bicycle dealer is not unusual. The number of specialty bicycle shops in the United States has dropped from about 6,200 in 2000 to 3,790 in 2015, according to the National Bike Dealers Association.
“Fierce competition and tight profit margins continue to be challenges for bicycle retailers,” the associated stated on its website.
Tringhese keeps busy these days with repairs and tuning up bikes for the riding season. His shop in back of the first floor is filled with boxes of parts, all kinds of wrenches, including ones stamped with the word “Schwinn.”
Some of tools he inherited from John Baer when he bought Baer’s Greensburg Cyclery and its Schwinn franchise in January 1978. Baer had held the coveted Schwinn franchise since the 1950s. Tringhese said he had been working for a Schwinn dealer in downtown Johnstown in 1977 since his service in the Air Force ended in the early 1970s. A Schwinn salesman told him that Baer’s Schwinn dealership was for sale, a good business opportunity at the time.
“People would come to find the Schwinns,” Tringhese said.
It also was a bicycle boom time, which started in the early 1970s, Tringhese said.
“Bikes sold like hot cakes and (dealers) could not buy them fast enough,” Tringhese said.
Schwinns were “the Cadillac of bicycles,” Tringhese’s longtime friend, George Whipkey, a retired Southwest Greensburg police officer said.
Whipkey joked that one of Tringhese’s problems in running the business is that he does not charge enough for the work he does on his bikes.
Longtime customer Terry Randall of Greensburg said he has known Tringhese for more than 30 years.
“He is the best mechanic around,” said Randall, who, like Tringhese, is a longtime bike rider.
When Tringhese is not fixing bikes, he is repairing model trains in the shop and then selling them. He learned to fix trains while working in the Johnstown bike shop. He has boxes of Lionel trains to be moved.
If he stays open until July 2021, Tringhese said it will mark 50 years in the bike business.
“I did not do it for the money,” he said.
When he does retire, Tringhese said it will give him more time to ride. The avid cyclist has ridden in long-distance rides in the past.
“I’m not going to sit around and do nothing,” he said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .