Thom’s Cyclery played early role in city’s bicycle history
Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series dedicated to the history of various past and present local bicycle shops.
Sacramento has been home to many bicycle shops during its long history. And one of the most memorable of those shops was Thom’s Cyclery.
When Thom’s opened its doors to the public in 1927, there had been a relatively low number of businesses in the capital city that had sold bicycles, let alone dedicated an entire inventory to this form of transportation.
The 1927 city directory lists the following local bicycle dealers: Frank J. Murray/Crawford/Rambler at 508 J St., William H. Harrison, Jr. at 1013 13th St., L&M Cyclery at 1215 4th St., Langley Repair Shop at 1015 5th St., Sanyo Bicycle Co. at 522 L St., Roy Thompson at 2714 Sacramento Blvd. (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard) and John W. Williams at 2975 35th St.
Due to the timing of Thom’s 1927 opening, it was not until the following year when the business was referred to in a city directory.
That 1928 directory mentions the business as then operating at 4432 4th Ave., under the operation of its founder, Hobart Denzil “Tom” Thom.
By the following year, Tom, who was born in Texas on Aug. 24, 1896, was running his business at 2544 Sacramento Blvd.
The 1930 U.S. Census for Sacramento mentions the then-33-year-old Tom, his Oregon-born wife, the then-29-year-old Martha, and their children and their ages, as follows: Lorraine, 11, Marie, 9, Adrian, 7, and Audrey, 6.
Tom became a widower on Sept. 5, 1933 with the death of Martha, who was then about 33 years old.
By the following year, the bicycle shop had been relocated to 3403 2nd Ave.
In about 1935, Tom expanded his bicycle shop, which as a result had the address of 3401-3403 2nd Ave.
A 1935 advertisement for the shop includes the following words: “Everything for the bicycle, guaranteed new and rebuilt bicycles. Expert repair service. 3401-03 2nd Av (sic). Tel. Main 9953.
Working as a salesman for the business at that time was John Thom, who then resided with his wife, Mary, and other members of his family in living quarters above the shop.
City directories continue to list the address of the business as 3401-3403 through 1938.
This address, however, was simplified to 3401 2nd Ave. by the following year.
For many years, the store, which sold new and used Schwinn bicycles, other brands of bicycles, tricycles and accessories, was known for stocking many bicycles in a small space.
An advertisement that was published in The Sacramento Bee on Dec. 11, 1960, for instance, ran a photograph of the inside of the store with the following words: “This is the interior of our store!!!!! It’s jammed!! If we haven’t got it – stop looking – no one has.”
The advertisement concluded with the words: “Buy your bicycle from people that know bikes!”
During the creation of this article, two area residents, who grew up in Oak Park, shared their memories of Thom’s Cyclery.
The first of these men was 83-year-old Mike Lateano, who recalled purchasing a bicycle from Tom in about 1944.
“When I was about 12 years old, I bought a used bicycle from (Tom),” said Lateano, who graduated from Sacramento High School in 1950. “I told him I didn’t have much money. I was mowing lawns and such. I saw this bike. It had a light on it on the front part, and that’s what attracted me. I remember, I asked him, ‘How much is it? I don’t have very much (money). I mow lawns around the area here and do stuff.’ He said something like 12 bucks. And I said, “Oh, I don’t have that.’ And he said, ‘How much do you have?’ I told him $9, and he said, ‘OK, I’ll take $9. But let me work on it a little bit.’ I think he kind of oiled up the sprockets and all that.”
After being asked to provide any other details that he recalled about that bicycle, Lateano said, “It was a used, older bike, but it was in good shape. I never had a problem with it. When I got that bike, it was during the war years. The Second World War was on. I remember that. I would say that was in 1944, probably. And there weren’t many cars driving around, because everybody had their gas rationed. People didn’t just take joy rides. If you had a car, you used it to go to work mainly and that was it.”
Lateano, who regularly rode his bike to Leland Stanford Junior High School, which was located at 3545 Sacramento Blvd., spoke about some of the other places that he would ride to on his bike.
“We would ride our bikes downtown, we would go over to where the college is now – Sac State,” Lateano said. “It used to be peach orchards over there. We would ride over there, grab a few peaches in the summertime and go down to the river and swim in the American River. So, you would take your bicycle all over in those days. It was either that or you walked. I couldn’t afford the streetcar. It was 8 cents to go downtown.”
Also sharing his memories about Thom’s Cyclery for this article was 1954 C.K. McClatchy High School graduate Bill Werry.
Bill, 79, said that he first went into that business in about 1945.
In recalling the bicycles that he rode during his childhood, Bill said, “My sister, (Marcella), was 10 years older than I was, so she kind of quit riding a bike. She had a girls’ bike and I had to ride her bike for a couple of years until (he acquired his own bicycle).
“My first brand new bike, my dad, (Marshall Werry, who was a local carpenter), bought it for me at Lyon-Darwin Hardware in Oak Park (at 2901 35th St.), like catty corner from Steen’s old bar (at 3445 4th Ave.),” Bill said. “Then I would go to Thom’s. I remember Tom. He was always in there, and one of his daughters was always in there a lot. I would go in there and I’d buy handle bars, seats, handle grips and all that kind of stuff. I never did buy a brand new bicycle or anything from him, because I had a bike and it was just a matter of maintaining it.”
“Back in the day, when I was a kid, Schwinn was the Cadillac of bicycles. But then there was a bike called the Blue Ribbon, which was also a very good bike. And my bike was kind of a clone of the Blue Ribbon. It was called the Rollfast. It pretty much echoed Blue Ribbon in the way they painted it and everything else.”
In returning to the main topic of the interview – Thom’s Cyclery – Bill said, “As I recall, (the business’s building, which was mostly constructed in 1896) had the old, oiled wood floor. It was kind of rickety and all that, but (Tom) had a lot of good stuff in there.
“I don’t think he had a lot of stuff hanging on wires or ropes or anything. He just had rows of bikes in there and lots of (parts). If you needed something, that’s the place you went.
“As I recall, the back part of the store was kind of shuttered from the front, and I think that’s where they did all their repair work back where you didn’t have access to viewing.
It was the only bike shop in and around Oak Park, and whatever you needed, you could get it at Thom’s Cyclery. And they always gave you good service and treated you right. And I don’t know any other store that the kids in the area went to. They all gravitated to (Thom’s). That was kind of the only game in town.”
Bill also shared details about the business’s founder, saying, “I can still see Tom. He was kind of a skinny guy, frail, skinny face, wore dark, horned rim glasses. It seems like he was a nice guy and he just tended the business and he was polite. He wasn’t a grouch or anything. You went in there and you needed something and he would take care of you. As I recall, he was pretty straight forward. He wasn’t real outgoing or loud or charismatic or any of that sort of stuff. He was just a good, old guy. I mean, he just went about his business. If you needed handlebars, he sold you handlebars.”
Tom, who married Ona Deliah McFarland (1911-2001) in 1944, retired in about 1970 and died at the age of 83 on March 2, 1980.
In Tom’s obituary, which was published in The Sacramento Union three days later, it was noted that at the time of his death, Tom had 22 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.
Thom’s Cyclery, which during its latter years was owned by Verland Thom, remained in business at the same 2nd Avenue location until about 2006.
Thom’s was replaced by Broadway Bicycles, which was in operation by March 2007 and remained in business for roughly a year.
The building has since experienced periods of vacancy.