February 21, 2008 (Toronto, ON) – After watching one of the oldest bike shops in Canada burn to the ground, the owner of Duke’s Cycle in Toronto, says he’s not calling it quits.
Gary Duke, whose grandfather Alexander Duke opened Duke’s Cycle on Queen Street in 1914, said he will find another temporary location and will try to open the doors soon. “Our short term goal is to find a space in the neighbourhood that will work and then we’ll work with the city and the insurance companies,” he said. “I’m hoping to be back in business within a month.”
Duke’s Cycle had been a fixture in Toronto and was a shop known around the country. But early Wednesday morning the building was part of a six-alarm blaze that ripped through an historic part of downtown Toronto. Of all the businesses that were affected by the massive fire, Duke’s suffered the worse damage with the building completely collapsing in on itself.
“For my dad it was just disbelief,” Duke said. “He had a lot of history there. He was born in an apartment above the store.” Gary Duke now owns the business after taking over from his father. The younger Duke said he would absolutely rebuild and see the doors to the famed store open again. Duke’s had nine full time employees.
“I’ll regroup I’m not going to stop now after 94 years,” he said. “It’s going to be a struggle, but I’ve got good staff and good people around me,” added Duke.
Because the season was just about to start, the store was stocked full of the new 2008 bikes, parts and accessories. Duke’s carried a wide variety of bike brands including Specialized, Cannondale, Kona, Trek, Cervelo, Ellsworth and others. The early estimates suggest that more than $1 million worth of stock was in the store at the time of the fire. There were also a number of customer bikes in the shop.
“When I was there today there was a front end loader in the middle of my store,” Duke said. “You couldn’t see a bicycle part sticking out anywhere — not a fork, a frame a wheel, there was nothing resembling a bicycle. It could have been an empty store.”
Toronto city councillor Adam Vaughan called the fire a tragedy. “This area is amongst the earliest commercial parts of the city. It’s a tragedy on so many levels. The Duke’s Cycle that had been here for generations is gone. The building is gone. I bumped in one of the brothers, and they’re in shock,” he said. “On a host of levels, it’s a bloody tragedy.”
Duke said the response has been overwhelming. “So many people have contacted us — old employees, customers — it has really been inspiring,” he said. “That energy is keeping all of us going.”
Internet cycling forums were buzzing with messages to the Duke family. A Facebook group called Helping Duke’s Cycle has also been set up to relay messages to the family and employees. “Duke’s is a benchmark in the industry, and while this fire is tragic I am sure they will be back as strong as ever,” said Adam Ruppel, who Chico Racing hosts events sponsored by Duke’s.
The first public appearance for Duke’s Cycle will likely be March 7-9 at the Toronto International Bike Show. The store always has a booth at the show and Gary Duke said that won’t change this year. The show organizers are allowing Duke’s to have a booth for free this year. “We’ll be there. Absolutely. Josie (Graziosi) and Brian (Miles) were saddened to see what happened and they were extremely kind to us,” Duke said.
Because the Duke family owned the store, they plan to rebuild in the same location at 623-625 Queen.
“We’re already starting discussions of getting back in. I’ll have a clean space so I can virtually do what I want. That’s kind of the light at the end of the tunnel,” Duke said. “It will be a lot of work in the mean time, but we’ve got great staff and plenty of passion for cycling.”
A history of Duke’s Cycle
Duke’s Cycle, Toronto, 1914
If you’re a cyclist in Toronto, chances are you’ve visited Duke’s on Queen at some point in your life. This popular store for both commuters and competitive cyclists was opened in 1914 by Alexander Duke as a general sporting goods store. After World War II, Alexander’s son Henry took over and by the end of the 1960s the store had shifted its focus primarily to bicycles. Today it still operates at 625 Queen Street, though it occupies 623 Queen as well now. Alexander Duke’s grandson Gary runs the store, but his father and mother still help out a few days a week. As for the future, Gary figures his two daughters aren’t interested taking over the shop, so he has his fingers crossed one of his grandchildren will take his place down the road.