History on Wheels: Memphis Bicycle Co.

In North Memphis by Brenda Wilkerson8 Comments

amaglianibros co shannoncaraway(The Amagliani brothers and their father, courtesy of Shannon Caraway)

Guerrino Amagliani opened Memphis Motorcycle Co. in 1917. The store’s first location was on Cooper, but it later moved to 190 Union Avenue, on what is now the grounds of AutoZone Park. Guerrino’s children – John, Mary, Mike, Gene, Joe, and Frank – helped out with the business.

Memphis Motorcycle Co. was one of the first Schwinn dealerships, selling Schwinn bicycles, Henderson motorcycles, and Whizzer motorbikes, as well as some Indian brand motorcycles. The store also distributed bike parts throughout the Southeast. The business expanded and thrived, earning glowing reviews like this one from a September 1922 issue of Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated:

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During the 1940s, the Amagliani brothers served in World War II while Mary quit school to help keep the family business going. Owning a bike shop was extra challenging during the war – due to shortages, the bicycles shipped to the store often lacked chains or tires.

mmco via matt morgan(Memphis Motorcycle Co. circa 1960, courtesy of Matt Morgan)

mmco-bikes via matt morgan(Frank Amagliani and an unknown person, courtesy of Matt Morgan)

The Amagliani brothers established Memphis Bicycle Co. at 2575 Summer Avenue in 1951, and expanded the inventory to include Norton and Ducati brand motorcycles as well as wagons, tricycles, lawn mowers, tractor parts, and appliances. They also opened Mt. Moriah Bicycle Co., which only sold bicycles and became known for catering to triathletes.

In 1992, the brothers were inducted into the Schwinn Hall of Fame for their decades of service to the brand. The Amaglianis’ personal customer service made an impact on generations of Memphians, even as business slowly declined in the manner of many privately owned shops. Mt. Moriah Bicycle Co. closed in 2005. (Gene, who had mostly taken over management of that shop, passed away in 2009).

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Memphis Bicycle Co. remained open, but suffered increasingly frequent robberies. During one robbery in 2013, the youngest brother, Frank, was stabbed. While recovering, he took a step back from the shop and even closed its doors temporarily. Eventually he decided to sell to Australian transplants Ted Norman and Sue Murray, who have steadily invested in real estate and businesses across Memphis for the last several years. Word spread through the local biking community about a liquidation of Memphis Bicycle Co.’s entire inventory.

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On May 16, excited bicycle enthusiasts lined up around the building well before the doors opened for the liquidation sale. Many attendees were longtime customers with warm memories of purchasing a bike at the shop or shooting the breeze with Frank, but even new visitors were eager to check out the vintage treasures inside the shop. One person in line exclaimed, “My eyes popped open at five this morning. It was like Christmas.”

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Some parents had gotten their first bikes at Memphis Bicycle Co. as children and were returning to purchase bikes for their own kids.

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The array of colorful bikes from the 50s, 60s, and 70s was only the beginning. Various bike parts and baskets, Schwinn paraphernalia, appliances, and office equipment were stacked everywhere, some in near-mint condition.

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Even the old vending machine, still partially stocked with snacks, was up for grabs.

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The future of the building at 2575 Summer remains uncertain, and the Amagliani family’s time at the forefront of the bicycling community appears to be over. But hundreds of Memphians are now bearers of a piece of their legacy.

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Images in this post not otherwise cited are by photographer Katie Willis.

Brenda Wilkerson

Brenda Wilkerson

Midtowner. Reader. Writer. Christian. True blue Tiger fan. Lover of shoes, the ocean, adventure, and McAlister's sweet tea.
Brenda Wilkerson

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Comments

  1. A great article but factually incorrect in many areas.

    1. The Amagliani brothers did not open Memphis Motorcycle Co. in 1917. My grandfather, Guerrino Amagliani, their father, was the founder and owner. He started Memphis Motorcycle Co. in 1917.

    2. The brother’s sister, Mary Amagliani, quit school to help run the business during the war. She was the “bookkeeper” until she died.

    3. Frank did not establish Memphis Bicycle Co. on Summer. It was a joint venture with all the brothers as was Mt. Moriah Bicycle C0. Frank continued to work at the Monroe Store which was a wholesale lawnmower parts distributor.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to share some additional facts with us Helen! It can be tough to put together all the information for any business, especially one that has such a long history. Brenda and I will work on getting the post updated with the info you were able to provide. I’d love to add a personal story or memory of yours regarding the store if you have something you’d like to share. Feel free to email it to memphistypehistory@gmail.com – any pictures you have would be a great addition too! Thanks again!

    2. Hi Helen. Joe is my Uncle that I never meet. I’d like to get in contact with him for my mother, his sister in law. His first wife Helen Billings sister.

    3. Helen your uncle Joe was married to my aunt Helen Billings who passed in 1952 from Bright Disease. He married her on her death bed. I would like to get in contact with you and his family. Your husband Errol Dunn called me this morning 10/28/16. I left him a message. Thanks Michael

    4. Helen, I am trying to get in touch with Frank Amagliani or one of his family members. He has some accounts that are his but will be shown as abandoned if we can’t find him. All his info has been disconnected. Can you help?

  2. Joseph “Joe” Imagliani is my Uncle I never meet. He was married to my Aunt Helen Billings Imagliani. She passed at age 25. Joe must have loved her very much because he married her on her death bed. I’d like to get in contact with Joe and any of his family you may email me. I have quite a few old family photographs with Joe in the circa 1952 I would like to share with his family.

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