You are here

Neil Quinn, former owner of Vermont's West Hill Shop, dies at 78

Published September 17, 2018

GUILFORD, Vt. (BRAIN) — Neil Quinn, who founded West Hill Shop in Putney, an epicenter of the cycling community, died Thursday at age 78 after a short bout with cancer.

Advertisement

Quinn, who was born in Washington, D.C., was working as a book designer in the 1960s when he became interested in cycling and Nordic skiing while working on a book about cross-country skiing by John Caldwell.

According to a history of West Hill Shop written by Quinn, a group of four families pooled their resources to launch a shop, which was first called Snail Cycles and located in a garage in Brattleboro.

"The only bicycle distributor that would talk to us was Mel Pinto of Gitane, although in addition to the bikes he did have tubulars and accessories," Quinn wrote. "We got some Campagnolo stuff from Jerry Baker in Seattle, some Cinelli stuff from Fritz Kuhn in Princeton (via Doug Dale), as well as Campy grouppos, frames, and bikes from Holdsworth in England. After sketching a Putney Bike Club jersey design with colored pencils, and submitting it for approval to the Amateur Bicycle League of America, we ordered them from England."

Later, Snail Cycles shared space with an existing ski shop called West Hill Shop that was in an old schoolhouse in Putney. In 1973 the shop moved to a new location just off Exit 4 of Route 91 and Quinn left his job in publishing to run West Hill Shop full-time.

The shop was rustic and picturesque, as were its visitors.

Cycling journalist Jim Langley discovered West Hill Shop when he was working at a store in Keene, New Hampshire.

"I rode over to visit and was so impressed to find this little shed on the side of the highway just stuffed with all the Campagnolo parts and custom frames we only dreamed about in our Schwinn-only bike shop," Langley remembered.

"I decided I 'had' to work there and asked Neil if he'd hire me and I was lucky enough to start there in 1978. I had no idea at the time that it would change my life and lead to a real career in the industry I love. It took a few years, but that job working at West Hill Shop eventually directly led to becoming the West Coast Editor of Bicycling Magazine and a life as a cycling journalist," he said.

The shop organized events, races and teams and was influential in the East Coast bike racing and cross-country skiing world.

The store was frequented by top athletes from cycling and skiing and even celebrities including author John Irving, musician Joe Walsh, and painter Jim Dine.

Bob and Barbara George, two of the original investors in Snail Cycles, remained close to the shop and later founded VeloNews (first called Northeast Cycling News and then "Velo-news").

"To me, it was the luckiest break in my life to get to work there and learn from Neil Quinn. He was the guy that made it all happen," Langley said.

Quinn ran the shop until he sold it in 2004 to Jim and Diny Sweitzer. Quinn continued to ride and was involved with race and event promotion until recently.

Quinn is survived by his wife, Betsy Bates, of Dummerston; his son Bevan and wife Tammi, of Guilford, and grandsons Braeden and Caleb; his daughter Mauireen Derby Quinn and husband Watson E. Bell III, of St. Thomas, Scotland, and granddaughters Bailee and Mackenzie Bell. He leaves a daughter-in-law Trish Kneeland of Westminster, Vt. He also leaves two sisters, Ellin Martin, of Rutland, Vt., and Deborah Quinn, of Santa Fe, N.M.

Additionally he is survived by three nieces and a nephew, and several grandnieces and nephews.

A wake will be held on Friday, Sept. 21, at Christ Church on Route 5 in Guilford, from 5 to 8 p.m. A funeral will be held at Christ Church on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 11 a.m., with a reception to follow at the Guilford Volunteer Fire Dept.

 

Join the Conversation