Only a couple of times in the history of Isaacs Avenue retail shop Bicycle Barn has the signature big wheel sign gone down.

One of those came courtesy of a camper, when a truck unceremoniously pulled out too far underneath it and ripped the sign right off.

At the time, owners in the Knowles family took it to a machine shop, where it was rebuilt better than ever. After that, the wind blew the wheel to spin so perfectly it seemed as if pedal-powered.

Last week’s removal of the sign won’t have quite that ending.

After 44 years, the sign has come down to make way for the reconstruction of Isaacs Avenue.

The change is bittersweet, owner Greg Knowles said. Although it removes a part of the business’s history, part of the reconstruction will now include bicycle lanes.

“I was a big pusher,” Knowles said. “This is going to be great when it’s done.”

The road work will bring Isaacs back to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane and add bicycle lanes on both sides of the road.

From the view out of the corner shop at 1503 Isaacs Ave., Knowles said the change combines the configuration he remembers as a teen himself with new features.

“It was ‘the gut’ when I was a kid,” he said from the office of the shop that sells and services bicycles and offers replacement parts, clothing and accessories.

Back then, the cycling community was a fraction of the size it is today, Knowles said.

Bicycle Barn dates back to 1975, when it was founded by Steve Ahler.

Ten years after that, the business was purchased by the Knowles family, including Greg’s parents, John and the late Dorothy Knowles. The business was a new world for the family, especially schoolteacher Jack, his son said.

At the time, the younger Knowles helped as an investor but worked for Northwest Grain Growers. He didn’t join full time until 1992.

The building ownership includes the stretch of property that ends with Up Balloon Boutique. Upstairs is a four-bedroom apartment.

Knowles has seen a lot of changes from the view of the business. Isaacs went from a two-lane road to four, and the cycling community has grown with road and gravel racers with terrain and views he believes are among the best in the world for riding.

As the roadway returns to two lanes, he won’t miss car and motorcycle races he sees along Isaacs.

The sign and its departure from the corner at White Street and Isaacs is another thing.

Knowles plans to have the wheel powder-coated and get new bearings for it. If he can get it mounted again for a rebuild, he’ll install it at the back of the building.

“That’s the hope,” he said. “It’s an icon.”


Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, or on Twitter at

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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