By this time next month, Ron Hettenhausen will no longer be peddling bicycles.
His bike shop at the corner of West Main and North 37th streets in Belleville has been sold and for the first time in 97 years, it will no longer be in Hettenhausen's family. The 80-year-old is retiring after decades in the bicycle and auto dealers business. At one time, his business was the largest seller of Schwinn bicycles in Southern Illinois.
For years, Endres would sell more than 1,000 a year and Hettenhausen still has numerous plaques to show for it. The barrel-shaped roof building that stands there now was built in 1956 that corner has been a local hub for transportation since 1917. The new owner who has not disclosed plans for the property.
Before he moves out, Hettenhausen invited business writer Will Buss to his shop last week to talk about his history and memories of the family businesses:
Q: How did your family initially do with this property?
A: "We started out in the bus business. My dad (L.G. Hettenhausen) and grandfather (Adolph Endres) owned St. Clair Bus Lines. They sent buses from Belleville to all over Southern Illinois, Murphysboro, Sparta and Du Quoin. When I was a little kid, each driver took me for a day. How could you get a baby-sitter like that? Then, they bought Belleville St. Louis Coach Co. Then, my grandfather went in the car business. He had a choice to go with Durant or Chevrolet, He chose Durant. ... We carried DeSotos, Nash, Star and Moon, that was made in St. Louis. Then, he took Studebaker and also had Jeep with it. For two years, I was a Mercedes-Benz dealer."
Q: When was that?
A: "That would have been the '50s. I had a Mercedes Benz 300 SL siting up here with the doors that (open from) the roof."
Q: How long did the car dealership operate here?
A: "From the 1930s and until 1966, when Studebaker quit and went bankrupt."
Q: Then you started selling bicycles?
A: "We actually had bicycles before that in '65. So we were a bicycle dealer then."
Q: Why did you get into that business?
A: "Hank's Tire Shop in Belleville was a Schwinn dealer and we decided to sell Schwinn. The tavern next door here, that used to be Endres Saloon. My grandfather's dad (Bill Endres) owned that. On Saturday nights, he had Buddy Ebsen would come in to sing and dance."
Q: How has the your bicycle business changed over the years?
A: "You've gone from almost great bikes to lesser-than-great bikes."
Q: Has the quality declined?
A: "Yes. They're not near as good. Schwinns were made in Chicago, and they lasted and lasted and lasted."
Q: What happened to Schwinn?
A: "They went bankrupt. Schwinn who would have never believed it happened. ... They were bought by Pacific Cycle, the same people who make Mongoose. The old Schwinn would have never gone into discount stores. They would have fought that all the way. But they went bankrupt (in 1992)."
Q: What have you been selling since then?
A: "We've been taking in a lot of trade-ins, which we haven't taken lately. We also have a lot of antique bikes."
Q: Is there a market for that or were they looking to save money?
A: "I think both. People wanted something nostalgic. I had people that wanted to buy a bike they had."
Q: Did you carry any other bikes after Schwinn went out of business?
A: "We have carried the Torker line, but we're not ordering anything new now."
Q: Have you thought about selling the business before?
A: "For about eight years. We've had lot of chances to sell it back further and we didn't, and I thought we should have. I'm 80 and I'm not getting any younger."
Q: Why sell now?
A: "My age and the actual deterioration of bicycles. Sure, you do a lot of business, but it's a nickel-and-dime business. A person comes in and they want spokes 12 inches long, you've got to go find it and then it's 50 cents. You don't make much profit on that. So I think it's the deterioration of the bicycle business. But people still walk in these doors and think they're buying a Schwinn. They figure they've got the old Schwinn. They don't."
Q: What will you do with your new free time?
A: "It's going to be an adjustment. I'm going to have to find a lot of coffee buddies."
Q: What will you miss the most?
A: "The people. I love people and I'm an old Dutchman that likes talking to them. I'm going to miss people a lot. I go to get coffee with my friends. I am truly going to miss them. I know that. I am going to have to find some things that involve something else now. It's something that had to be done and there's no sense in going on any more with it."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526.
Name: Ron Hettenhausen
Job: Owner, Endres Schwinn Cycling at 3625 W. Main St. in Belleville
Outlook: "My philosophy has always been that if you walk through that door, you're doing me a favor."