FOR Georgians of a certain age, the name Stuckey’s may conjure fond memories of piling into a station wagon for a family road trip.
Founded in Eastman, the blue-roofed roadside convenience stores were familiar and welcoming sights across the South and eventually across the country.
Stuckey’s was purchased by a large corporation in the 1970s and its fortunes declined. Late last year, Stephanie Stuckey took the helm of the company and she aims to introduce Stuckey’s to new customers.
While her primary clientele travels on four wheels and sometimes 18, the CEO gets around on two.
“I’ve always had a bike and started using it for transportation in college at the University of Georgia, riding to and from classes. I live intown in Atlanta and can pretty much get anywhere I want to in town with my bike,” she said. “As former head of sustainability for Atlanta, I was fortunate to support the city’s chief bicycle officer and Planning Department’s initiatives to create the bike share program.”
Stuckey said travelling by bike provides a different perspective on her community.
“You notice things like building design, local businesses, and where the safest routes are.
There’s something special about the smells, noises, and just grittiness of a city that I love when you’re on a bike,” she said.
While her business still focuses on the needs of tourists and truckers, Stuckey is expanding the company’s online offerings, establishing a presence in urban areas, and was eyeing airport locations before the pandemic.
“Since 1937, Stuckey’s has catered to the traveling public,” she said. “My grandfather’s motto was ‘every traveler is a friend,’ and that remains our guiding principle to this day.”
Stuckey said she can imagine a scenario that combines her enthusiasm for cycling and for her family’s business.
“My dream is to have a mini city Stuckey’s that could be along a bike trail or even the BeltLine,” she said. “I think it’s important to stay true to your roots while still being resilient enough to adapt to shifting consumer dynamics.”
Stuckey said the pandemic has definitely shifted more of her neighbors onto bikes for transportation.
“Streets are less crowded with cars so bicyclists, I think, feel empowered to hit the streets,” she said. “But I’ve also noticed more cars speeding and driving recklessly – like the reduced traffic is some sort of license to forget rules of the road. Motorists need to learn to share the road – not just with bicyclists but pedestrians, wheelchairs, and scooters as well.”
On the other side of the country, a former Atlanta resident has seen the same thing.
“In Los Angeles during the COVID-19 era, I do see a lot more riding now, especially down the side streets and neighborhood roads. Plus, there are less cars on the road so I think that’s a big appeal,” said Millie De Chirico, programming manager at Turner Classic Movies.
She said she used her bike for transportation in West Hollywood even before the pandemic, and they reason why will be familiar to Savannahians.
“Since I don’t have my own parking space and street parking is always a challenge in my neighborhood, I actually ride my bike a lot more than I ever did, especially to run small errands and for things like going to the movies or seeing friends,” she said.
De Chirico has also come to appreciate why bike shops are so important during the pandemic.
“I’m happy the bike shops were deemed an essential business here in California because they are definitely a primary source of transportation for a lot of people,” she said. “I also think, because of quarantine, lots of people suddenly remembered they owned an old bike and wanted to start riding it again.”
De Chirico was able to have her bike serviced at Coco’s Variety, a quirky shop that describes its inventory of used bikes for sale as, “faded champions reborn for another chance at glory.” Along with new and used bikes, Coco’s sells cassette tapes sourced from garage sales and a new product offering during the pandemic.
“I started hearing that all the bike shops were seeing a surge of bike repairs and overhauls, but I was happy that Coco’s was able to fix my bike issue in just a few days. Plus, they’re selling bread! They are awesome,” she said.
De Chirico offered advice for those considering hopping on a bicycle for the first time, or the first time in a long time.
“Wear a helmet! And don’t feel bad if you’re freaked out by riding again or for the first time. I went many years without riding a bike regularly and definitely had to remember how to be conscious of everything that comes along with riding. No shame in doing donuts in an empty parking lot somewhere just to get the feel of it back,” she said.
Stuckey offered similar advice.
She said, “Go for it! And please support your local biking organizations.”