Shut Shop a Major Loss for Eaglehawk’s Cycling Lifeblood

Eaglehawk, Victoria

Central Victorian town Eaglehawk lost an institution when Major’s Eaglehawk Sports & Cycles store officially closed its doors last week, after more than 50 years in business.

The store’s owner operators, Norma Major and her son Peter, have decided they’re ready for a more relaxing life and the store – the only sports store in Eaglehawk’s history – has made way for a pathology lab.

Peter says Major’s Eaglehawks Sports & Cycles has provided bikes for three – and sometimes four – generations of families in the district.

“When people found out the store was on the market, a few came in and bought bikes for their children for when they grew into them in four or five years’ time, just so they could tell them they got a Major’s bike,” he said.

“I had a little tear in my eye the last time I locked the door but I figured it’s new horizons. However, the part that really hurt was leaving all the local kids and the local customers without the instant availability of parts.”

He said while Eaglehawk is just eight kilometres from large regional centre Bendigo, Major’s continued to enjoy a very strong relationship with its community.

“Every kid in Eaglehawk wanted to work in our shop and I never had even trouble getting part-time workers,” Peter said.

“We made the decision to sell at the end of the last financial year. Mum’s now 86 but was still doing the shop’s books. She had to have her shoulder replaced and I didn’t want to do the bookwork.”

He said Norma had always been a driving force behind the business, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last December.

Rapid Realisation

“She was the secretary for a furniture company and was watching three shops getting built across the road. She’d been thinking about what you could put in those shops and one night it came to her ‘we need a sports shop’.

“She woke my old man up and told him ‘we need to open a shop’. He told her ‘you’re a silly bugger. Go back to sleep’.

“But once she’d thought of it, it was a matter of three weeks before the store opened.”

Norma and her husband Geoff drove their car to Melbourne to pick up their initial stock, and in December 1973 the township of Eaglehawk, population roughly 10,000, had a general sports store with tennis racquets, cricket gear, clothes, bikes and toys.

The store stayed in its High Street location for three years, until a café across the road came up for sale.

“The moved doubled the store’s floorspace, so we also sold firearms and ammunition for a while,” Peter said.

“Bikes were only five percent of the business at the start but became more prominent in our new location after I left school at 14 and got involved in the store.”

Peter started doing bike repairs, despite never being a cyclist and never having any formal training.

“I just picked up the skills as I went along. If something was broken, I pulled it apart, found out what was wrong and put it back together properly,” he said.

“Being able to service and maintain bikes and offer repairs, the bike side of the store became stronger and stronger and was soon about one third of the business.”

Conditions got pretty cramped when one of Peter’s sister took over half of the premise to operate a florist business.

“We were always at the working man’s level with the bikes we stocked.”

“Both businesses grew too big and a supermarket came on the market, so we purchased that and that’s where we’ve been ever since.”

Suddenly Major’s Eaglehawk Sports had 300m2 of floorspace, while the continued emergence of specialist sporting equipment stores continued to push Major’s further towards a greater focus on bicycles and scooters.

“They ultimately become 80% of our business and the only other sport we catered for was the Eaglehawk Football Club,” he said.

“We were always at the working man’s level with the bikes we stocked. We didn’t have a lot of bikes over $1,600 and we sold plenty of mid-range $600-$700 BMX bikes.”

After selling Cyclops bikes in the store’s earliest days, it became a strong supporter of Apollo and its Radius bikes.

“In the last five years, electric bikes also became a big part of the business,” Peter said.

Major’s became a valued dealer for TEBCO, which provided most of the electric bikes the store sold, along with another Australian e-bike brand, RILU.

“We also sold lots of pneumatic-tyre scooters to the local farmers so their kids could ride around the farms,” he said.

“About the only thing we didn’t do was road bikes because there were specialist road bike shops in Bendigo.

“It’s been a good little profitable business. It supported me, mum and another employee – usually an after-school part-timer – for the full length of time we were there.

“It’s put my four boys through university and they’ve all worked in the store at some stage – either part-time or full-time – before moving onto their own careers.”
Despite serving the Major family well, the business was on the market for quite a while before an investor enquired about buying the freehold on the premises.

“When we came to an agreement, he told me was moving Melbourne Pathology up, so he wanted vacant possession by the 1st March,” Peter said.

“Doing that meant I could keep my stock and my business name.”

Three people standing in interior of bicycle store with cake
Celebrating the store’s 50th anniversary … Norma Major, her son Peter (back) and husband Geoff, who worked as a physical education teacher at the local school but helped out at the shop each afternoon in the business’s early years. Photo credit: Major’s Eaglehawk Sports & Cycles.

Mobile Business Venture

At 62, Peter is planning to semi-retire to he can spend more time fishing and shooting while he’s still young enough to do plenty of travelling.

But after a planned six-week break, he’s intending to start Major’s Eaglehawk Mobile Bike Repairs service.

“A lot of my e-bike sales were to nomads who generally want them serviced before they go away for their three-month trips and again when they get home. I’ll go out to service their bikes onsite or, if the work is more intense, I’ll bring the bike back home and return it to the owner a day or so later,” he said.

“I’ve also got some retirement villages asking me to come out and service the residents’ bikes, as well as neighbouring towns who want me to head out there one day a fortnight so the local farmers can bring their bikes in to me.

“I’m also going to keep selling e-bikes and will continue to work with TEBCO.”

And what about Norma? She’s offered to do the bookwork for the new mobile business and the pair joke that she’ll keep working until she’s 95.

“I’ve worked with my mother for 46 years and we’ve had a really good working relationship,” Peter said.

“We only had one argument between us. I reckon I won, she reckons she won, and neither of us can remember what it was about.”

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