Hershell Streit, longtime bike shop owner, dies at 92


Hershell Streit, shown in this July 14, 2005 file photo, has died at age 92.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 4:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 4:02 p.m.

After serving as a B-17 pilot in World War II, Hershell Streit returned to Gainesville to open a Schwinn bicycle shop that he owned for 60 years and later opened Honda motorcycle and drive-through lock and key shops that still bear his name.

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Hershell Streit, shown in this July 14, 2005 file photo, has died at age 92.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

Streit died of heart failure at age 92 Thursday morning at North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville, according to his daughters.

In a 2007 interview, Streit said his interest in bicycles started when he delivered The Gainesville Sun on a $2 bike.

“I couldn’t afford to have it repaired, so I started hanging around the bike shop and I got to like the bicycle business,” he said.

He worked at Rice Hardware and as a teenager moved to Tallahassee in 1939 to operate a bicycle shop for J.D. Rice.

While there, he volunteered for the Army Air Corps. He flew 25 missions over Europe as a B-17 pilot.

Daughter Kim Streit said her father did not open up about his war experiences until recent years. He told her about the time a bullet came up through his seat, ripping his pants, and exited through the roof. He would recommend that pilots be protected by metal plates under their seats.

Some of his exploits are chronicled in the book “Return to Base” written by his co-pilot, Jesse Pitts.

After the war, he got a job in South America flying over the Andes but said he couldn’t speak Spanish so he returned to Gainesville to open Streit’s Schwinn Cyclery in 1947.

The first shop was a 520-square-foot store at 615 W. University Ave.

Kim said her father was inventive, having created a cycle wash — a big shower where he could hang up and wash a bunch of bicycles at once — and a night deposit box for bicycles.

Business was good, and Streit’s moved into a 20,000-square-foot space at 818 W. University Ave., where the store branched into motorcycles and lawn mowers. In the early 1970s, the family moved the bicycle business into an old pancake house at 1614 NW 13th St. and built Streit’s Motorsports at 4820 NW 13th St. Hershell ran the motorcycle shop and wife, Jeanne Streit, ran the bike shop, which later added exercise equipment. They also opened Streit’s Lock and Key outside the bike store.

On Dec. 5, 1976, a fire nearly destroyed the bike shop.

In 1977, the Streits opened a bike shop in Ocala. Daughter Kay operated the store for 17 years before marrying and moving to Atlanta. Hershell Streit then ran the shop for a few years before selling it. He also sold the motorcycle store in 1989.

The Gainesville bike shop was rented out to Mattress Town and the bike shop moved to 4421 NW Sixth St. for a couple years before closing in September 2007.

Daughter Kay Webb said her father kept the store open for years to give his wife something to do.

Starting with his 80th birthday, Streit rode his bike 80 miles plus one for good luck. He continued to age 86 — riding 86 miles plus one, before discovering he had a heart valve problem and his doctor told him to stop riding in the summer, Webb said. He continued to ride in the winter.

“He was giving, selfless, sharing, loving,” she said. “He was always wanting to help somebody. He’d give them the shirt off his back.”

He is survived by two daughters and two grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Jeanne, and son, Peter John Streit.

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