Trivia: What does "Big 4" mean in Chattanooga's former "Big 4 Bike Shop"?
For many Chattanoogans who came of age in the early- to mid-20th century, the downtown bike store and hobby shop was a city institution, a place where Santa shopped for gleaming new Dixie Flyers and workers repaired and painted cherished older bikes.
But nothing in the newspaper record explains the name: "Big 4." Do you know what it means? If you do, please write to the email address at the end of this article.
This 1950 photo places the bike shop at 1820 Rossville Blvd., near the intersection of Rossville Boulevard and Central Avenue. The photo is part of a collection of Chattanooga News-Free Press photos displayed at ChattanoogaHistory.com, a website curated by history buff Sam Hall.
The first mention of the Big 4 Bike Shop in local newspaper ads and articles dates to 1936, when the theft of a single Dixie Flyer bicycle was enough to prompt a newspaper notice. The stolen bike was black and white with chrome fenders and the store owner wanted it back badly enough to take out an ad and offer a reward for information about the theft.
In the 1930s, the Big 4 Bike Shop was located on West 9th Street before moving to Rossville Boulevard and later Market Street. By the 1960s Big 4 Bike Shop was operating on East Main Street.
There are mentions of the store in local press reports through the early 1980s when representatives from Big 4 helped with an annual Bike-A-Thon to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
In pre-WWII days the store billed itself as "Chattanooga's Exclusive Bicycle Dealer," and it originally carried such brands as Pierce-Arrow, Packard and Dixie Flyer. Later, the store also stocked motorcycles as well as radio-controlled model airplanes, toys and games. One ad from 1938 encouraged customers to visit the store and estimate the revolutions-per-minute of the propeller on a model airplane for the chance to win a free prize.
Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available.If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives, or original non-digital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.
Interestingly, as early as the 1930s the shop was touting the health benefits of bike riding.
"It's lots of fun to ride for an hour or so, just for exercise," an ad exhorted.
Early owners of the store were J.B. (Jim) Wood (founder) and Ed Martin, according to records. An obituary in the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2010 names Hollis Williams, who died that year at 87, as a long-time owner of the store. Williams, of Rossville, Georgia, was a World War II veteran and a member of the Hickory Valley Baptist Church, according to the obit.
Downtown bike rentals may seem like a 21st century phenomenon, but as early as 1940 Big 4 Bike Shop offered bike rentals by the "hour, day, night or week."
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