On Friday, Aug. 18, Greg Williams did something he never thought he would do after nearly 30 years running Country Time Cycle in Mattituck: He taped a “Sale” sign on the front window.
By mid-morning, news had spread via word of mouth and social media that Mr. Williams was shutting down the bike shop he’d owned since January 1997. Some saddened customers thought it must be a mistake; others saw it as a sign that small-town, mom-and-pop businesses are vanishing from the North Fork under a tidal wave of financial and demographic change.
“I thought about it a lot,” Mr. Williams said Friday afternoon as he dealt with, as he described it, his “busiest day since the pandemic” after the clearance sign went up.
The bell at the door chimed almost nonstop as customers flocked in to see that everything in the store — from bikes to accessories to an impressive collection of tools in the second-floor loft — was up for sale.
“Times have changed, and a job offer in the private sector came through that I thought about. We discussed it at home and in the end, decided to accept it,” he said, with a tinge of sadness in his voice. He declined to describe the nature of the job offer.
Mr. Williams was seated on a stool in the loft, surrounded by tool chests, workbenches and bikes needing repair. Everything around him, along with the more than 300 bikes in the first-floor showroom, are a product of his own hard work. The building was empty space when he moved in.
Over nearly three decades, he made it what it is today. And now, a new life beckons and he will leave behind what he built himself to work for someone else. The business owner will become an employee. From up in the loft, he listened as his staff — which on Friday included his mother — dealt with customers on the first floor.
“Is it sad? Yes,” Mr. Williams said. “This has been my whole life, and my family’s lives. It’s been three decades of our lives.”
He pointed to a corner of the loft where he and his wife set up a makeshift nursery in 2005 so his then-newborn son, Connor, could come to work with his father. He showed a visitor photographs on his phone of his son and daughter playing in the store when they were toddlers.
That’s the sort of place this is: You could buy a bike, or get one repaired, while the owner was also minding his kids. Country Time is a model of small-town business run by an owner with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Mr. Williams began from scratch, opening in January 1997, when he was in his early 20s. Over the years he employed dozens of local kids who learned salesmanship and how to repair the gears on a pricey road bike. That is just one of the many community benefits of the business that will disappear with its closure.
Generosity was another mark of Mr. William’s shop. Every year he donated bikes to fire departments and community groups raising money for various causes. He sponsored local Cub Scouts and Little League teams; a banner for his store was ubiquitous at kids’ sporting events and community happenings like the Cutchogue Fire Department barbecue every August.
“People sometimes tell me they can buy it on Amazon,” Mr. Williams said. “But Amazon doesn’t sponsor a local baseball team or donate to your fire department. Amazon has no community involvement.”
Over the course of owning Country Time, Mr. Williams was also a Southold Town Trustee. When he tried to grow his political career beyond that, he ran into obstacles. He lost a bid for the Southold Town Board in 2021 and, earlier this summer, lost a bitter GOP primary for the Suffolk County Legislature.
While it is clear that Mr. Williams sees his treatment by the party he sought to represent as shabby — at the very least — he also says shuttering the business has more to do with getting a solid job opportunity that promises financial stability and allows him to leave behind the vagaries of owning a business in uncertain times.
He said he has had good years financially, but the direction for the business in a world of big box sporting goods stores and online ordering of nearly everything made running a mom-and-pop business more challenging.
“Something like half of all small businesses fail in the first year, and what’s left fail over the next five years,” he said as he wheeled a bike up the ramp to the front door.
Inside, more customers waited to speak to him. The atmosphere in the store ranged from, “I can’t believe you are doing this,” to opportunistic shoppers looking for a bargain. Mr. Williams spoke to every one of them.
“That’s the reality for small businesses that fail,” he said. “But we broke that — we lasted nearly three decades.”
Mr. Williams grew up in Mattituck, graduating from high school in 1990. He then worked at a store in Mattituck that sold both bikes and furniture. After briefly working with his brother, Mr. Williams set out on his own and moved into the space Country Time Cycle currently occupies in January 1997.
From the beginning, he knew he wanted to be both a local business owner and a part of the community. They went hand in hand.
“Any community-based organization that needed support never left here empty-handed,” he said. “The community supported me, and we wanted to support the community.”
Since word spread that the store is closing, several former employees, many dating back years, have called or written to express their gratitude for the opportunity. One message came Friday, Mr. Williams said, saying, “It was a great time in my life and everyone I worked with felt the same way.”
“This is a family business,” he added. “If you can’t have fun in a bike shop, where can you? This is an old-soul bike shop.”
When Country Time Cycle finally closes — Mr. Williams anticipates staying open through early fall — there will be very few bike shops anywhere near Southold. “There’s Rocky Point, Middle Island, Eastport and Southampton,” he said.
“It was easier two decades ago,” Mr. Williams said of running the business. “Change is constant. The biggest challenge is the rate of change.”
Asked how he will feel on the very last day, when he walks out the front door, locks up, gets in his car and heads home, Mr. Williams responded: “I won’t know until that day. I’ve spent 30 years building a business. I have no experience shutting one down.”