Remember when, Chattanooga? Big 4 Bike Shop was an enthusiast’s paradise

Trivia: What does “Big 4” mean in Chattanooga’s old “Big 4 Bike Shop”?

For many Chattanoogans who came of age in the early to mid-20th century, the downtown bike and hobby store was a town institution, a place where Santa Claus bought sparkling new Dixie Flyers and where workers repaired and painted older bicycles.

But nothing in the log file explains the name: “Big 4”. Do you know what that means? If you do, please write to the email address at the end of this article.

This 1950 photo places the bicycle shop at 1820 Rossville Boulevard, near the intersection of Rossville Boulevard and Central Avenue. The photo is part of a collection of Chattanooga News-Free Press photos posted on ChattanoogaHistory.com, a website curated by history buff Sam Hall.

The Big 4 Bike Shop’s first mention in local newspaper ads and articles was in 1936, when the theft of a single Dixie Flyer bike was enough to trigger a notice in the newspapers. The stolen bike was black and white with chrome fenders and the store owner wanted it back enough to post an ad and offer a reward for the theft information.

In the 1930s, the Big 4 Bike Shop was located on West 9th Street before moving to Rossville Boulevard and later to Market Street. In the 1960s, Big 4 Bike Shop operated on East Main Street.

There are mentions of the store in local news articles in the early 1980s, when Big 4 representatives helped organize an annual Bike-A-Thon to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

In the pre-World War II era, the store billed itself as “Chatanooga’s Exclusive Bicycle Dealership” and originally carried brands such as Pierce-Arrow, Packard, and Dixie Flyer. Later, the store also stocked motorcycles as well as radio-controlled model airplanes, toys and games. A 1938 advertisement encouraged customers to visit the store and estimate the propeller revolutions per minute of a model airplane for a chance to win a free prize.

ChattanoogaHistory.com

Launched by history buff Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical imagery in the highest resolution available.

If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives, or non-digital original prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall to find out how they may be eligible to be digitized and preserved for free.

Interestingly, as far back as the 1930s, the store was touting the health benefits of cycling.

“It’s great fun to ride for about an hour, just for exercise,” one ad urged.

The store’s first owners were JB (Jim) Wood (founder) and Ed Martin, records show. A 2010 obituary in the Chattanooga Times Free Press names Hollis Williams, who died that year at age 87, as the store’s longtime owner. Williams, of Rossville, Georgia, was a World War II veteran and a member of Hickory Valley Baptist Church, according to the obituary.

Downtown bike rentals may seem like a 21st century phenomenon, but as far back as 1940, Big 4 Bike Shop offered bike rentals “by the hour, day, night, or week.”

Follow the “Remember When, Chattanooga?” user group on Facebook.

“Remember When” is released on Saturdays. Contact Mark Kennedy at [email protected]

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