Smith's Sporting Goods

From The Pioneer Pages - Vol. VI

By Gary Smith and Nancy Wimmer Bodendoerfer



Looking north from 1225 Park: Bazaar and Children's Shop, Dinty's Army Goods, Willard Sport or Shirt (sign on truck says "French Laundry Cleaning Works"), First National Bank (later Bank of Italy/America). Across 13th can be seen the Trussler building.

How Did it Start?

Clark's father, Henry Brinkenhoff Smith, came to Creston in 1885 with his second wife and his five surviving of nine children. In 1888, at the age of 18, Clark Sherwood Smith left Creston for Oakland, California, where he worked for three years at the C.B. Rice Hardware/Sporting Goods/Novelties Store and learned about guns, bicycles, and how to repair just about anything. After three years, he returned to Paso Robles on a 51-inch Columbia Ordinary (a.k.a. the "Big Wheel"), taking four days and losing thirty pounds along the way.

In 1892, Clark dealt in shotgun shells in a store space provided in the Lewis and Hardie Hardware Store (Wagons, Buggies, Carts & Implements) at the northeast corner of 13th and Park streets, where Heaton's was later located. In the spring of 1893 he joined his brother Fred in a bicycle store in Cambria, returning to Paso Robles in the winter of 1893 and opening Smith's at 1225 Park Street, where the business continued for almost 100 years. (It is reported that he first had a shop on Spring Street, but records are unclear on this.) Fred joined Clark in 1896, and the business was known as the Smith Brothers Cyclery and Bicycle Hospital.

Clark's granddaughter, Nancy, recalls getting her lunch pail repaired by her grandfather when she was a young girl. When a hinge or the handle broke, her grandfather took it into the shop in the back and brought it back good as new, even painted. What she didn't know was that he went out the back door to Sam Smart's parents' nearby five-and-dime store and brought her a new one just like the old. (Sam named the Paso Robles football team the "Bearcats" in 1922.) Clark purchased a large double door floor safe around 1896 to protect jewelry and other valuables. After the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 destroyed many safes, the safe companies tried to buy back safes from previous customers. Clark chose to keep his safe, which is still in beautiful condition after over 100 years of use. This safe is currently on display in the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum.

In 1898, a "dry year when no one had any money," Fred moved to Palo Alto where he opened a bicycle shop on the Stanford campus in a shed behind the Encina Gymnasium. Later he moved off campus to a site across from the main entrance to Stanford University. Eventually, the store became Smith's Sports Shop and Smith's-on-the-Circle. He dealt in bicycles, photography, printing, locksmithing, and for a time, he automobiles in addition to bicycles. He sold the first auto in Palo Alto, but the owner returned it when he found it didn't drive like a horse. Thusly, Fred became owner of the first auto in Palo Alto. 

Clark stayed at the Paso Robles store and it became known as C.S. Smith's and, eventually, C.S. Smith's Sporting Goods.


Clark, Jack and Norman
Clark Smith, Sr., on a bicycle built-for-three in 1898.
Behind him: Jack Gruwell and Norman Cliff.
(All photos courtesy of Gary Smith and Nancy Wimmer

Bicycles Then and Now

Bicycling became quite popular, and a number of sporting events were organized to entertain the public. The following "Horse Sense and Nonsense" column by Don McMillan, January 18, 1945, is from the local paper over half a century ago, recounting a race that took place half a century before that.

It's July 4th, 1895, and the city of Paso Robles seethes with a massive crowd of humanity out to celebrate. At least 200 people have watched the parade tour its way through town and are now lining the course laid out for the bicycle race. This is the race that will decide the burning question . . . who is the fastest cyclist in the area?
The favorite is Lomax, whose mighty leg drive can dear the rubber off the rear tire. Then there's Jay Triplett and Harry Wetzel, not to be shrugged off by anyone in an event of this kind. Last, there's this young fellow, Clark Smith, who runs a gun and bicycle store downtown who has been in strict training for weeks, going without ice cream and pedaling out to his dad's ranch each day to keep his muscles in shape. No one gives him much chance against the other speed demons of the track. But here he is, full of confidence. He is wearing what someday will be called "shorts" and, for modesty's sake, has a pair of long stockings on. He's riding a "76" Falcon, while the others a pinning their faith on lower-geared "63" vehicles.
The crowd is betting wildly as the four line up, with Clark getting the undesirable outside position. They're off! And the crowd gasps as the "gun store kid," with a terrific "get-off," leaps into the lead, takes the pole position, and literally "gets it into overdrive" as they circle Engle's corner. In fact he's so far ahead when they pass Blackburn's barn, south of 8th Street, that Herb Lathropp, seeing only the others bunched together, offered to bet Will Lewis that Clark will come in last. Clark increases his lead and at the end of the third lap and the approx. three-mile-race, no one denies that he's the champion and well entitled to the six-dollar prize.

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