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Tuesday, May 11, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Cycling `Institution' Out Of Business -- U-District Shop Shuts Doors After 20 Years, Files For Bankruptcy

R & E Cycles Inc., a business many credit for helping create and perpetuate Seattle's vibrant bicycling community, has quietly closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy.

R & E, at 5627 University Way N.E., closed last week along with five other stores owned by Jim and Janet Visbeek. The businesses filed for Chapter 7 a few days later.

The other shops include Mountain Bike Specialists, Seattle Bike Repair, R & E 2nd Gear, all in the University District, and Seattle Cycles stores on Capitol Hill and Elliott Avenue West.

Jim Visbeek said yesterday that he regretted the sudden shutdown but had been advised it would be the best option.

Visbeek blamed the bankruptcy on a tough economy, operational difficulties and a variety of internal control problems including unexplainable inventory losses.

The shutdown left many employees in the lurch and many cycling enthusiasts surprised. Just a month earlier, R & E had been named among the nation's top 100 cycling shops. It had sponsored a 110-mile bike ride on the Olympic Peninsula the weekend of May 1-2.

"We didn't hear a dit," said one employee who asked not to be identified. "I suppose we should have seen it coming."

A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge will appoint a trustee to oversee liquidation of the company's assets, listed as $336,000 for R & E and its companion shops and $128,600 for Seattle Cycles. Debts were listed as $998,837 for R & E and $352,578 for Seattle Cycles.

Visbeek said that at least one of the stores might be sold to a previous owner and reopened.

R & E has cultivated an image as a moderate- to higher-end specialty bicycling business with a strong sense of community service.

Besides lending repair crews, support vans and other assistance to organized Seattle-area rides, the company often would do such things as collect old bicycles, repair them and donate them to needy children.

R & E was started in 1973 by Angel Rodriguez and Glenn Erickson, and rose to national prominence through the pair's efforts to promote recreational bicycling.

The Visbeeks bought the business about three years ago.

At the time, Jim Visbeek said he bought the shops to fulfill his dream of owning a small company. R & E reflected many of his interests in promoting a clean, non-polluting business that gave back to the community.

His plan was to expand the operation slowly.

However, he acquired one Seattle Cycles store in the spring of 1991 and the other a few months later.

"In hindsight, I suppose you can say we grew too quickly," Visbeek said.

Court records list annual gross income for R & E at $2.69 million in 1992 and at $770,000 for Seattle Cycles Inc.

Business slowed last winter and creditors went unpaid. Suppliers stopped shipping merchandise, employees said.

Carolyn Price, publisher of Northwest Cycling/Sports Etc. magazine, acknowledged that she stopped selling the companies advertising space after several bills went unpaid.

R & E had donated space and computers to the Cascade Bicycle Club for its annual Seattle-to-Portland bicycle ride. It also planned to be a sponsor this year of rides for the American Lung Association and Associated Grocers.

Although ride organizers say other sponsors and volunteers will pick up the slack, many acknowledge that the loss of R & E leaves a void.

"We'll manage without them," said Angela Mansfield, of the American Lung Association. "But this is unfortunate. They've been very good to us over the years."

"It's a major loss for the Seattle cycling community," Price added. "They were an institution in Seattle."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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