Owosso Bike shop still peddling bikes after 40 years Store owners have kept up with the trends, focusing on customer service

By Sally York

The Argus-Press (Owosso)

OWOSSO, Mich. (AP) -- The Morris family has kept the House of Wheels in Westown rolling since 1972. But it's an extended family the Morrises honor as they reflect on 40 years in the bicycle business.

"All of our customers are like our family," said co-owner Rick Morris. "We have people who come in and say they are the second, third or even the fourth generation who bought their bikes here.

"We take care of our customers -- I guess that's the reason they keep coming back."

The House of Wheels family includes thousands of people, Morris said, including Owosso natives John Tomac, a world biking champion the store sponsored, and bicycling enthusiast Craig Hansen, who was killed after being hit by a car while riding his bicycle in 1992.

Rick Morris cited Tomac's success as the high point and Hansen's death as the low point of his time at House of Wheels.

Morris's mother, co-owner Alice Morris -- who has worked at the shop on and off over the years and still keeps the books -- has fond memories of both men. She remembers Hansen as a "friendly person" and Tomac as "a real polite kid. He wasn't a showoff."

Tomac was a 12-year-old towhead when he first started drooling over the inventory at House of Wheels, which had opened seven years before. That was the year the store moved from its original location at 816 W. Main St. to the larger storefront next door, at 814 W. Main. Today, the shop occupies both buildings.

Family patriarch Nelson Morris, an insurance agent, came up with the idea of starting a bicycle shop after 10-speed bikes became popular in the early '70s. He had only one other local competitor, Cordier's Cycle Hub.

His son, avid 10-speed rider Rick Morris, started working at House of Wheels when he was 17. Except for a few years when he lived in California, he never left.

"I like making people happy," said Morris, 55, who still rides his bicycle to work. "Everybody who leaves here is happy because they're going on an adventure and their adventure is on a bicycle."

The shop got off to a slow start, opening in November -- not exactly the heart of the biking season -- with about 15 bicycles. Rick Morris said they didn't make a single sale until December, though business became brisk that spring.

By keeping up with changing trends -- 10-speeds with skinny tires, BMX bikes, mountain bikes with fat tires, family-comfort mountain bikes and 1950s-style cruisers -- House of Wheels has thrived over a period of four decades, even as many of their Westown neighbors closed their doors.

One reason for the store's success is that it's a full-service shop, with Rick Morris and longtime employee Buck Flagg assembling and repairing the bicycles, and selling bike parts and riding attire.

"I go there for the service and the prices -- they're very accommodating," said longtime customer Bob Flynn. "Rick is a very good mechanic and very nice. When I was sick for a long time, the Morrises made sure they called and sent cards. They're friends."

Another reason is the bicycling paradise that is Michigan, which boasts more non-motorized trails than any other state, Alice Morris said.

"Bicycles are here to stay," she said.

And when there's pain at the pump, business is even better.

"When gas goes over $4, we get a boom," Morris said.

Contributing to the community is important to the Morrises. The store sells discounted bicycles to the Owosso Kiwanis Club for its reading program prizes, hosts groups of Boy Scouts at the shop and has sponsored bike races at the Curwood Festival. Rick Morris helped start the Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee Rail-Trail, Flynn said.

Rick Morris said he and his Westown neighbors devote a lot of time to beautifying the area and hosting such events as the recent Westown Art Walk.

"Westown is more than just a place to have a business," he said.

In addition to sons Craig and Rick Morris, the couple have two daughters, Jan Reeves and Susan Treen, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Through it all, Rick Morris said he counts himself as lucky to have a home-away-from-home at House of Wheels.

"Not very many people get to work with their family," he said. "With my dad, mostly, for the first 20-some years, and now with my mom."

Rick's dad Nelson Morris died in 1995. His brother Craig Morris passed away in 2002.

Published: Thu, Jul 26, 2012