A new store, in a way, is moving into 489 Exchange St. Trek Bicycles will be the third business to sell bikes in that location since 1984. Business transitions always seem like a good time to examine the history of a building.
The Geneva newspapers offered little information about the building’s origin. On Nov. 19, 1899, the Geneva Daily Times wrote, “work on the O’Reilly building in Exchange Street will soon be begun.” The city directory for that year showed Edward O’Reilly as a real-estate agent, but he appeared in the paper as infrequently as his building.
The building, on the east side of Exchange Street between Seneca and Castle streets, is one of the most ornate in downtown. The Smith Opera House on Seneca Street and the old YMCA building on Castle Street were built several years before, of red brick and terracotta. The O’Reilly building used several colors and textures. The base brick is tan, with white horizontal and angled bricks around the windows and doors (today they appear gray, but may have been white 120-plus years ago). There are applied terracotta ornaments and fleurs-de-lis between the second- and third-floor windows.
The building was finished in fewer than five months; Baker and Stark men’s clothing store opened on April 1, 1900. Originally from Penn Yan, they came to Geneva in 1899 but lost their first location. The store stayed in this spot until closing around 1964. The Baker and Stark name is inlaid in mosaic tiles in the doorway.
In the era of formal dressing, Baker and Stark sold everything from underwear to overcoats. They advertised in the Herald, the Hobart College newspaper, to attract students. A notorious event occurred in early January 1928. Employee Charles Green shot owner Daniel Baker in the store after being fired. Baker died from his injuries, and the murder trial consumed the newspapers. Green was sentenced to Auburn Prison.
After Baker and Stark closed, the Fashion Sewing Center and Christenson Music were tenants for a while. In 1977, Harman’s Sport Shop moved there from its location at 513 Exchange St. H.E. Hovey had his collection of stuffed game animals on display, including a lion, and they made the move as well.
Harman’s sold every type of sporting equipment, from lacrosse sticks to hunting rifles and shotguns. It was the area supplier for high school varsity jackets. When student athletes had enough varsity letters, they could order the jacket through Harman’s.
Steve Mahan owned the store from 1960-80. He offered in-school services to area sports teams. He brought samples of the necessary equipment for a sport to the school, took orders for each student, then delivered the items to the school. This also was a time when athletic companies sold higher-grade goods to sporting stores than to the discount department stores. Eventually that ended, taking away the advantage of sport shops.
Harman’s closed in 1982. The next tenant had been in business since 1942. Ray’s Bike and Key Shop was near the corner of Exchange and Castle streets and sold Raleigh bicycles. In March 1984, owner Mike Peterson changed the name to Geneva Bicycle Center and moved to the larger store. The business regularly appeared in the Finger Lakes Times, organizing events and donating bikes for prizes.
Jim Hogan bought the Bicycle Center in October 1995, after working in other shops for several years. He expanded the business to the second floor, which had been apartments throughout the life of the building. He also increased the variety of bike companies he represented. Hogan was active in supporting the Musselman Triathlon and worked with groups to fix bikes and donate them to people in need.
Historic Geneva preserves the history of local businesses. Hogan donated the brass Baker and Stark sign that sat in his front window for years. We have Geneva High School varsity jackets that were purchased at Harman’s. We collect advertising ephemera: key chains, pocketknives and other giveaway objects with business names. Please contact us if you have things you would like to donate.
Marks is the curator of collections at Historic Geneva.