What may seem like a new bike business on Newport Beach’s Balboa Island is actually not new at all. In fact, Cecil’s Cyclery has been around since the 1930’s, decadent in rich family history that has left such a lasting impact that it demanded a cross country spread.
Three generations down the line from the original Cecil’s Cyclery, John Cecil of Newport Beach decided to open up a bike shop of his very own, reincarnating the original shop built by his great uncle, Gerald Cecil, in 1936. And not only did John rebirth the Cyclery, he’s also revamped it, making it well equipped with modern day electric bikes for rent, tours, and sales for residents and visitors alike on sunny Balboa Island. But what may not be obviously evident from a first glance of the outside of the new shop is the spirit and character of the Cecil family that made it possible for the legacy to continue on decades later…
It all started with a bike repair in Sedalia, Missouri in the year 1936. In 1936, Dorsey Shaw had a broken bike and he didn’t know how to fix it, but he knew where to go -- Gerald Cecil, who was known around town for repairing bikes in his family’s garage. There, Gerald fixed Dorsey’s bike and sent him on his way, pocketing 35 cents from the exchange. And through that seemingly miniscule interaction, Gerald’s career took off, creating the foundation of the legacy that is Cecil’s Cyclery.
Gerald Cecil may not have known the levels of success he would quickly achieve, but he did know business, which in part, would be a key contributor to his achievements.. He was the youngest of four sons born to W.W. and Louisa Cecil, his father owning a barbershop that proved successful until the Great Depression hit America. And as the saying goes, sometimes, blessings come in disguise.
Due to the economic plunder that was the Great Depression, barbershop demand dwindled, but the demand for bikes became an absolute necessity for the working class. Bikes were needed not only as a mode of transportation to get to and from work, but also to be used during work. At the time, many young working boys helped their families with income by delivering newspapers and magazines, and Gerald specifically did his part by delivering Western Union telegrams and vanilla extract for ten cents, as well as laundry for his neighbors who worked from home.
However, Gerald did not obtain his impact by simply delivering items by bike, but rather, repairing said bikes. The widespread use of bikes at the time was the driving force behind his business gaining renowned success. Before long, Zel Lipski - owner of Louisville Cycle Shop in Louisville. KY offered him $2000 in credit for bike parts and kick-started Gerald’s career in selling bikes, on top of his already flourishing bike repair work. Gerald can be quoted saying that the aforementioned “company gave [him his] chance,” and we know he meant those words as he kept the contract from his first sale of a Schwinn Crusader in 1938 years afterwards, the document that solidified Cecil’s Cyclery as a business (It’s important to note that Louisville Cycle Supply was a big deal at the time).
But, perhaps what made the Cecil family so memorable in the community was not just the cyclery, but the family’s ability to continue serving their community wherever there was a need they could cater to. Throughout the following years, Gerald Cecil would come to own four separate store fronts, making the family not only successful but multifaceted. During this era, Gerald spent time as a jewelry salesman, a food service salesman, setting up soda pop stands throughout the city, as well as working briefly in pharmaceuticals and fervently in chicken production. Lastly, Gerald capitalized on a huge budding industry that was radio and television. Gerald and his business partner and brother, Cleo Cecil, began selling and repairing radios, and therein after made their final business venture selling televisions as they grew in popularity.
In 1959, the newspaper The Democrat reported that Optimist Lt. Gov. Ostergood commended Gerald’s work, saying that he had never met somebody with more “enthusiasm and spirit” than Gerald Cecil. And Gerald, in turn, noted that in Sedalia, Missouri, where he grew up and grew several business, he “had many good experiences, nothing bad.”
Now, back to present day, we can confidently say that enthusiasm and spirit still characterize the Cecil’s today. Today’s Cecil, John, the founder of Newport Beach’s Cecil’s Cyclery, still remembers visiting the original cyclery in Sedalia; there, he and his parents would purchase t-shirts that they would bring back to California and proudly wear in commemoration of their family trips to the mid-west each summer. Now, that simple traveling t-shirt from the midwest has grown into a brand new storefront, its memory now constructed into physicality, where it can share it’s past with the new community here in Newport. And though John holds these memories close to his heart and is embedded in his mission statement, he owes the cross country stretch from Kansas to California, to his father.
John’s father was one of the first Cecils to move out of the midwest, traveling to Orange County for his first job after graduating from Kansas University at Collins Radio. This began a whole new lineage of Cecils in California, which is why John felt there was no better place to honor his family’s history. Furthermore, he felt there was no better time to open the Newport store than amidst a crisis of our very own, Covid-19.
And just as Gerald’s blessing came in disguise to him during the Great Depression, so did John’s, except this time in the form of a pandemic that has single-handedly changed the way every single person lives today. Understanding that these times of isolation and uncertainty takes its toll on our health, both mental and physical, John decided that this was the perfect time to open an electric bike store where people can find freedom and peace outdoors riding a bike on one of California’s most beautiful beaches.
Now, with Newport’s Cecil’s Cyclery up and running, the legacy lives on with three whole generations of Cecil’s currently working in the store, John’s father, Mel Cecil, John Cecil, his daughter and son, Ella and Jack Cecil, and his nephew, Sam Cecil Miller. The legacy lives on now further than the original showing that the same enthusiasm and spirit embodied by Gerald Cecil in Sedalia, Missouri, also runs in the Californian Cecil blood.
And just like our ancestors served their community when needs were presented, we here at Cecil’s Cyclery promise to do the same for our home community in Newport Beach. And in the words of Gerald himself, we can say that in Newport we’ve “had many good experiences, nothing bad” and we promise this will be a phrase you can use in turn when you speak of Cecil’s Cyclery in Newport Beach.