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Theater-turned-bike shop serves RAGBRAI riders a dose of Chariton history

  • 24 July, 2019
  • Shelby Fleig

CHARITON, Ia. — In 1929, the Ritz Theatre, on the south side of Chariton’s town square, was a new beacon for the arts in small-town America.

Ninety years later, the building with its original marquee serves as a refuge for cyclists, especially during the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

Wednesday morning, as riders made their way from Indianola to Centerville, friends of the Connecticut Yankee Pedaller welcomed those in search of bike parts or a dose of history.

“This town shouldn’t even support a bike shop,” said Glenn Williamson, 75, a former co-owner of the company. “It’s an anomaly.”

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Any banker would tell you the town of 4,000 isn’t the ideal place for an enormous bike shop, he joked.

But it maintains, and in recent years has grown a large inventory of low-riding trikes, popular with older cyclists.

The influx of business during RAGBRAI is “like Christmas,” he said. The shop moved into the former theater about 12 years ago.

The owners of the shop are RAGBRAI veterans Dave and Connie Hendricks. Dave fielded many walk-ins Wednesday, old friends and new faces alike.

He coached newbies on the correct pronunciation of the Lucas County seat: “SHARE-uh-tun,” he said slowly. “It’s a soft C-H.”

RAGBRAI 2019 Day 4 photos: Indianola to Centerville

RAGBRAI 2019 Day 4 photos: Indianola to Centerville

Walls in the shop entrance display photos of the theater in its prime, when hundreds of Iowans would pack the auditorium seats to see films like “Code of the Secret Service,” starring Ronald Reagan and Eddie Foy Jr.

Williamson, of Corydon, said the shop has special significance for him and his wife, Suzann.

When their routine rides to Indianola became more challenging, the Hendricks fitted their 20-year-old tandem with a new seat and pedal assist.

Williamson began crying at the thought of how much those changes helped them keep going.

“I get emotional about biking — and about my wife,” he said. “That increased our distance to 20 miles, and we had not gone 20 miles together in a long while.”

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