After nearly 45 years, Rainbow Jersey Bicycles will close on March 28. Owner Jerry Pearce announced the news in a fondly nostalgic post shared on the local bike shop’s Facebook page Monday.
In the post, Pearce detailed Rainbow Jersey’s history and growth as a family business, its community connections and involvement in different realms of the bike world. As for why RJB is closing, Pearce wrote, "Retail has its ups and downs and the nature of it has changed dramatically in the last 45 years. Virgil (Pearce) passed away in 1983 and Jerry has reached retirement age and thus the reason for RJB closing the doors next month."
Rainbow Jersey, 4600 N. Wilson Dr., was an East Side biking fixture, especially in Shorewood. In the spirit of Pearce’s reminiscence, I have some Rainbow Jersey memories. My first bicycle, a terribly multicolored but utilitarian fixed-gear contraption that I rode to school, soccer practice and faraway forbidden fast-food restaurants as a kid, was from RJB.
Midway through high school, I’d saved enough money to buy a "real" one, a 21-speed Trek mountain bike that could withstand the perilous slope of what my friends and I called "Banzai Hill" off the Oak Leaf Trail near Hubbard Park. Inevitably, riding down – and, if you were lucky, back up – those plunges damaged not only our elbows and knees, but also our bikes, and the guys at Rainbow Jersey were always happy to help with a quick fix or suggestion for repair.
Rainbow Jersey opened in May 1973, with Jerry and his father Virgil running it, his brother Alan helping out for a time and "hundreds of bike enthusiasts" employed over the years. The business forged an early relationship with Trek in the late 1970s and it viewed community service and activity as part of its mission. As the name would suggest, RJB was heavily involved in racing, promoting and sponsoring events, and Pearce served as Wisconsin Cycling Federation President from 1996-2001.
Rainbow Jersey will start a going-out-of-business sale on Feb. 18, with everything in the store discounted 30 percent. See below for details on hours, service schedule and sales.
If you ever went to RJB or are just a local bike person, Pearce’s post is worth a read. Here it is in full:
On May 12, 1973, Jerry Pearce opened the Rainbow Jersey Bike Shop for business for the first time. After showing a Marx Brothers movie at the Plymouth Church the night before, Pearce left behind a hobby and started a career that lasted 45 years. It was a very small start. Jerry and his father Virgil had $5000 to make the 400 square foot space at Hampshire and Downer a retail bike business. Neither of the owners had any experience in retail but both had a passion for bicycles.
Over the years RJB has sold many brands of bikes and for a short time in the early Seventies when bikes were in short supply, imported bikes from England. Also in the early days a shop was set up to fabricate custom bike frames under the Rainbow Jersey name. Alan, Jerry's brother, was one of the frame builders as well as the head mechanic. The volume of sales turned out to be inadequate to foster a profitable business and the frame building shop was closed in the early Eighties. Fortunately a substitute was formed in 1977 - Trek Bicycles. It was a local company making quality hand built frames. RJB started selling Treks in 1978 (one of the first customers in the US) The story of Trek is well known.
Over the years RJB has employed hundreds of bike enthusiasts and many are still considered friends. Community service and activity has always been part of the RJB mission. When RJB sold cross country skis(1974-1990) Channel 10 had an instructional series on how to use skis with Jerry as the expert. But bicycles were always the forefront in the mind of the owners. Jerry was involved in the initial UPAF Ride for the Arts (there was a promotional lap around the inside of the park at County Stadium before a Brewers game.
Jerry participated with the Milwaukee Bicycle Task force set up by then Mayor John Norquist to make Milwaukee a better place to ride bikes. The bike lanes in Milwaukee are a part of the effort put forth by this group. In 1992 mountain bikes were banned from all State trails. This caused a reaction from the bike community and Jerry sat on a committee to bring mountain biking back to Wisconsin. This obviously was accomplished with welcome help from Trek. RJB was an enthusiastic participant in the inaugural Bike to Work Day in Milwaukee (now Bike to Work Week). More recently RJB has supported 2 youth programs with the Shorewood Recreation Department- the First Ride and a Bike Rodeo.
Bike racing has always been a part of RJB. Virgil raced as an amateur just before World War Two (when racing was big in Milwaukee with indoor racing along with professional 6-day racing) and Jerry competed as an amateur starting at the age of 8 in 1959. So, forming a racing team was a no brainer and the Hampshire Cycling Club was born in 1977 (RJB was then located on E. Hampshire Street). Hampshire Cycling Club won lots of races but more importantly promoted the sport by running race events at the rate of at least 2 a year starting in the early Nineties.
Also in 1977, RJB introduced cyclocross racing to Milwaukee by sponsoring and promoting the Amateur National Cyclocross Championships in Lake Park. In addition, Virgil served as the Wisconsin State Representative for the Amateur Bicycle League of America (and later the United States Cycling Federation) from 1967 - 1979. Jerry served as Wisconsin Cycling Federation President from 1996-2001.
Retail has its ups and downs and the nature of it has changed dramatically in the last 45 years. Virgil passed away in 1983 and Jerry has reached retirement age and thus the reason for RJB closing the doors next month.
We will be starting a going out of business sale Sunday Feb. 18 with everything in the store discounted 30%. The hours for the sale will be: Monday-Closed, T-F 1-7, Sat. 10-5 and Sunday 12-4 (the store will be closed Feb. 12-17 ) All sales will be final. We will stop servicing bikes on March 17 and after that, all tools will be on sale (some have lots of history having been used for 45 years). The last day Rainbow Jersey Bicycles will be open for business is March 28.
It's been a great 45 years – thanks to all and bonne route, Jerry Pearce.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.