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Retail Icon Hoffacker Passes Away

Published December 13, 2009

PALO ALTO, CA (BRAIN)—Bernie Hoffacker, the original owner of Palo Alto Sport and Toy World and Palo Alto Bicycles, died on December 5 at Stanford Hospital.

Bernie was almost 92 years old and in good health until he suffered a fractured hip at his home two weeks previously, according to Palo Alto Bicycles general manager Jeff Selzer.

A graduate of Palo Alto High School in 1934, Bernie excelled in baseball. In 1936 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Menlo College. Immediately after graduation he was offered a contract with the San Francisco Seals of the Yankee organization, recommended by legendary Ty Cobb who took Bernie under his wing and coached his fielding and batting. Cobb and Bernie worked out on a regular schedule, meeting at Stanford where Hoffacker would shag balls hit by Cobb. He played shortstop and travelled and roomed with Dominic DiMaggio. He retired from professional baseball in 1941. With his love of baseball he continued over the years to coach local semi-pro, Babe Ruth, and little league teams.

In the 1940s Bernie and his brother Ed took over the management from their father who founded Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World. During World War 2 with bicycles being the major means of transportation, Bernie ran double shifts at the Sport Shop repairing bicycles to keep people rolling. During these times the U.S. mail was delivered by bicycle and Bernie contracted to maintain the large fleet of postal bikes for 25 years.

In 1973, with the interest of his two sons in bicycling, Bernie expanded and moved the bike department and named it Palo Alto Bicycles, which is located on University Ave. The store went on to be voted one of the top ten bicycle stores in North America by Bicycling Magazine.

In the mid 70s Palo Alto Bicycles introduced a Mail Order Catalog. Offering then hard to find Italian and French components and custom lightweight road bicycle frames made by an up and coming frame builder named Tom Ritchey. With the success of the mail order catalog Bernie and his sons decided to try their hand at manufacturing and spawned Avocet. While they developed state of the art components, shoes, saddles, and tires, their real claim to fame came with the development of the first electronic cyclometer.

"At the same time Palo Alto Bicycles sponsored a cycling team that included a skinny kid from Reno, Greg Lemond," Selzer said. Lemond went on to be the first American to win the Tour De France.

Bernie instilled a strong sense of community in his sons and holding true to his teachings in 1998, the store working in tandem with the City of Palo Alto, opened the Bikestation at the Palo Alto Cal Train depot.

The list of innovative ideas that spawned from Palo Alto Bicycles includes the previously mentioned mail order catalog, along with smooth “treadles” tires (now the standard in many road bike tires), the coveted 'Cross tire from Avocet that had an inverted tread for both on and off road riding, trend setting racing and touring anatomical saddles, touring cycling shoes still considered by many to be the best touring shoe ever made, the first electronic cyclometers including one with an altimeter, and finally the Vertech, ski/hiking watch, the first watch that could not only record the total number of vertical feet skied in a day but count the number of runs and even allow the calculation of vertical speed.

Palo Alto Bicycles and Avocet also helped to develop and launch one of the most recognized products in sports nutrition today, Clif Bar.

Many of these innovations are attributable to his sons, Bud and Neal. Without Bernie’s creation, Palo Alto Bicycles, some if not most of these innovations may never have seen the light of day.

Continuing in the family tradition, Palo Alto Bicycles is owned by his sons Bud and Neal, while Ed III owns the Palo Alto Sport and Toy World.

Bernie is survived by his wife of 68 years, Marjorie, of Palo Alto; his daughter Lyle Caudillo of San Jose, his sons Bernhard (Bud) of Woodside; Neal of Portola Valley; Ronnie of Santa Cruz; four granddaughters, three grandsons and three great granddaughters.

Memorial Mass will be held today at 2 p.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 751 Waverly St. Palo Alto.

Topics associated with this article: People

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