He Made a Business Out of Bikes

Bernie Hoffacker talks with Jim Sullivan. Craig Maynard, center, hired me in 1979.

I consider the 1980s the Golden Age of modern cycling. While it’s true I was at the peak of my game, consider this: Greg LeMond became the first American to win the Tour de France. Campagnolo reached its zenith as the manufacturer of the best bike parts in the world. Shimano was coming on strong. Mavic introduced the MA2 clincher rim, the best ever. The mountain bike became a household name.

And, Palo Alto Bicycles thrived. I had the privilege of working there. I can’t tell you I got rich: nobody does in the bike business. I had fun and adventures to last a lifetime. That’s the payoff.

Palo Alto Bicycles isn’t any bike shop. It has been around since 1930 (moving to University Avenue in 1973). That’s a long time for a business much less a bike shop. It’s family-run, which has its good and bad points. Do your job well and they treat you like family. It’s an intangible job benefit that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

Bernie Hoffacker – The Owner
The driving force behind the shop was Bernie Hoffacker. He was well into his 60s when I started working there in 1979 as a fumbling “mechanic.”

Bernie had a way about him that left an impression. Nothing escaped his attention. A child of the Great Depression, he never let you forget every penny counts and no job is too insignificant or unworthy of being done just right.

One of my jobs was taking out the trash. Every night Bernie made the rounds and he always asked me if I had emptied all the cans. “Make sure you press it down real good,” he’d say. We had only one dumpster and sometimes it was a chore cramming in all the discarded bike boxes.

Bernie didn’t ride a bike, but he was athletic. I’d watch in amazement as he headed up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. In his youth he played baseball for the San Francisco Seals. One day we had a company picnic and Bernie showed up to play shortstop. When a hard-hit ball came his way he scooped it up like a pro. He had the moves!

Bike shops draw all kinds of people to work there and shop owners can tell you it’s a challenge keeping everyone in line, maintaining a professional manner, handling the dark side of owning a retail business. Bernie had that down in spades. His commitment and drive made Palo Alto Bicycles what it was and is to this day — a thriving business. Now Bernie is gone, age 92. He lived not just a good life, but a great life. I’ll miss him.

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4 Responses to “He Made a Business Out of Bikes”

  1. Joanna Says:

    I wish there was some way cyclists in area could pay their respects without crashing the funeral Monday. Any ideas?

  2. Jeff Says:

    Ray,

    Thanks for the memories. I did not have the opportunity to work directly for Bernie but I have had the privilege to work at Palo Alto Bicycles for the last 10 years. And I can tell you Bernie is very much alive in the business to this day. We last saw him about a month ago here at the shop and he was beaming from ear to ear. You could really see the pride he still had for the shop.

  3. Jeff J Says:

    Bernie was an absolute legend. I was the UPS driver in downtown Palo Alto in the late 70s early 80s and had many conversations with him during the years. He used to closely check the empty boxes in the dumpster to make sure the employees didn’t miss something in the recieving process and accidently throw it away. When I entered and progressed in the bike business years later-I thought of that all the time-and often found missing parts in the dumpster.

    Thanks Bernie…

  4. Art Harris Says:

    I agree about the ’80s being a golden era for cycling. I’m still riding the 1984 Palo Alto frame I bought via mail order. I love it! Still have some of the PAB catalogs from that era.

    Sounds like Bernie was a great guy and enjoyed life.

    Art from NY

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