December 4, 2022

WorkIT News: Coopers Harness Shop

100 Years Ago - How it all began at 901 S Main St
Coopers Harness Shop began operating out of the front of the building that is now operated by WorkIT Coworking Center. Take a stroll down memory lane and read the article featured in this image:

Rolling through the years
Charles H. Cooper has long history
in Stillwater's business scene
In 1907 Charles H. Cooper rode a bicycle to Stillwater from Stroud, carrying all his belongings with him. He got a job in a harness shop, where he met his future bride, Angela Greiner. Married in 1909, the young couple lived in two towns before returning to Stillwater.

The building at the southeast comer of Ninth and Main was where Cooper opened his harness shop in 1922, having traded his farm in Hennessey for a half interest in the Greiner Brothers Harness shop. In Hennessey, he was also the chief of the volunteer fire department. When he moved to Stillwater, he was also active in the fire department. He particularly wanted to settle in Stillwater to give his children a chance to attend college. As a boy, Cooper, along with his brothers Joe and George, soaked harness leather and learned to lay out harnesses on the floor piece by piece to repair. He admitted that he wouldn't have known how to put the harness on a horse. They watched the old men congregate around the checker table in the back by the wood-burning stove. The boys would climb the outside stairs of the Ninth Street building to launch paper and balsa wood airplanes. Sometimes, the planes would sail all the way to Seventh Street, where the Katz store stood. The phone number of Cooper's Harness Shop was simply 233, and a live operator answered.

In 1929, as a 13-year-old schoolboy, Charles ran a paper route, finally saving enough money to buy a bicycle for $15. Later, he was offered a similar bicycle for $7, so he bought it to ride, putting the other one up for sale. As customers came into the harness shop. they saw it and asked if he could do bicycle repair, which was when he was allowed by his father to take one counter at the back of the store for his bicycle business. That was the real start of Cooper's Bicycle Center. As the Depression deepened, his father's health failed and he was forced to close the harness shop, which had begun selling automotive tires and accessories. Since his father was no longer able to work (he died in 1938) Charles operated his bicycle shop from a building located behind the family home on 620 S. West, across the street from the St. Francis Xavier rectory. Serving in the Army Air Force during World War II, Charles relied on his mother and three sisters to rent bicycles to the servicemen and women who were stationed in Stillwater. Since the commanding officers restricted the service personnel to the area of the campus at times, Charles modified a 1928 Dodge Sedan, cutting the body to make it an improvised pickup to deliver bicycles. He said he would like to find that old vehicle today. Western Union delivery boys also used bicycles from Cooper's to deliver their messages.

Five years after the end of World War II, using a G.I. loan, Cooper built the building at 220 S. Main that still houses the bicycle business. Novelty bicycles were a pet hobby of Cooper, who designed and built several. Some of them are in use today. There is one that is a companion bicycle, where the riders sit side by side. Another is called the Kangaroo because it has an offset wheel, which makes it bump up and down as it is ridden. He built a tiny bicycle for his children which two of the eight learned to ride before they were 3 years old. The others were around 5 years old when they mastered the balance of two-wheelers. Cooper and his brothers all rode unicycles, as do some of the adult children and grandchildren. The truing stand, which is the motif of the bicycle store, is shown in catalogs in 1902. Cooper did not realize he was using a genuine antique daily until he saw an identical one featured at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Over the years, Cooper has seen great changes in the bicycle business. From the early days when balloon-tired bicycles were new, to 10-speeds, from the great bicycle shortage in the 1970s when gasoline prices skyrocketed, when he ordered 10-speed bicycles by the railroad box car load, to the BMX craze, which son, Guy, promoted, to the mountain bikes, which all the Cooper boys, Jim, Chuck, and Ralph enjoy today. Grandsons enjoy the freestyle stunts, especially enjoying the Schwinn Stunt Team which put on an exhibition in Stillwater in 1998. Retired now, his daughter, Mary Ann Cash, son-in-law, Wes Cash, and grandson, Dennis Hotson, are busy at the bicycle center, in addition to Brad Rogers and Scott Campbell. Cooper enjoys traveling to bicycle swap meets and Wheelmen meetings, where he can admire vintage bicycles from the turn of the century. He has a bicycle collection that he maintains and a small museum. Charles H. Cooper leaning against the counter at Cooper's Harness Shop. 901 S. Main St., in 1923. Cooper rode his bike into Stillwater in 1907 carrying his belongings with him. Cooper opened his harness shop at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Main Street in 1922.

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