While researching Jewish history in northwest Baltimore for a bike tour next weekend, I came across another interesting story from the history of Baltimore cycling – the story of a Park Circle bicycle shop (still operating in Baltimore County and Columbia as Princeton Sports) that did a brisk business renting bicycles to Jewish families and children around Druid Hill Park.
Lucille and Samuel Davis arrived in Baltimore from Princeton, New Jersey in 1936 and opened the Princeton Cycle Company at 3301 Park Circle renting single-speed, foot-braked Schwinn cruisers to individuals and couples around Druid Hill Park. In Jewish Baltimore: A Family Album (2000), Gilbert Sandler sketches a warm picture of the corner – a busy streetcar junction with an A&W Hot Shoppe, a Little Tavern Hamburger, and Mr. Davis’s Cycle Shop:
On Sunday mornings, the neighborhood’s young people would rent bikes from Mr. Davis’s Cycle Shop. By ten o’clock on any fine sunny Sunday morning, all of Mr. Davis’s bicycles were rented out, including his only “bicycle built for two.” The cyclers rode every path of the park, down to what is now the Reptile House, past the Zoo up to what teenagers knew as “Prospect Hill,” and as far as the tennis courts and swimming pool.
Just a couple years after opening their shop, they won a concession from the Baltimore Parks Department to open a bicycle rental stand near Druid Lake, then – like today – a popular area for cycling. The stand remained open through 1947 renting bikes by the day or the hour. In Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore (2012), Sandler quotes an interview with Samuel and Lucille’s son – Bernard “Sonny” Davis:
I started working there when I was eight years old — my father opened at Park Circle in 1936 and left the area in 1951. At our Park Circle shop we had as many as fifty bikes out at one time — and far more at our location in Druid Hill Park near the reservoir. We charged twenty-five cents an hour, and we were the first in our business to offer bikes with training wheels so kids and moms could keep up with dads.Amazingly, we did big business after 11:00 pm, when the waiters and waitresses getting of work at the Hot Shoppe would start their midnight bike riding in the park.
The center of Baltimore’s Jewish community continued to move northwest and the couple moved with it – closing their Park Circle shop in 1951 and re-opening as a sporting goods store on Park Heights Avenue in 1952. When Samuel Davis died in 1963, “Sonny” Davis and his mother, Lucille continued the business – moving the shop to Falls Road in Baltimore County in 1970. In 1981, Sonny’s own son Alan Davis came on to open a new location in Columbia. I’d love to reach out to the family at some point and learn more about the history of the original shop – the building still stands as far as I can tell but it feels like there is more to the story than has been told here.
- “Lucille Davis Ran Princeton Sports,” November 22, 1990, The Baltimore Sun
- TaNoah Morgan, “Family firm is big wheel in sporting goods retailing: Sales growing despite increased competition,” October 15, 2001, The Baltimore Sun
- Barry Kessler, Druid Hill Park: Jewish Baltimore’s Green Oasis – 1920-1960, The Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network