Emey Hoffmann, ‘the father of bicycles,’ dies at 63


By Albert Amateau

Emey Hoffmann, the bicycle expert who ran several bike shops on the East Side over the years, died unexpectedly at home on E. 17th St. on Jan. 7 at the age of 63.

He died of a heart attack, according to his brother Jon, of Port Jervis, N.Y.

“Emey started on bicycles when he was about 10 years old hanging around bike shops on the Lower East Side,” Jon said.

“He owned a lot of stores over the years — the latest was Busy Bee Bicycles on Sixth St. near First Ave. He had stores for a while at 18th St. and Second Ave., Canal and Bowery and at 17th St. off Third Ave. for a long time,” said Jon.

“When I told George, who has a bicycle shop on E. Fourth St., that Emey died, he started to cry and said, ‘The father of bicycles is dead,’” Jon said.

Hoffmann’s shops were the emergency repair stations for bicycle messengers and a treasured resource for bicyclists of all ages.

“Emey knew everything about bicycles and could build them from the frame up,” Jon said. “If you came in and said you wanted a bike or a part, he’d virtually throw you out. He wanted you to tell him what you wanted the bike for or about a special problem,” said Jon.

In a Notebook column in the Feb.16, 2005, edition of The Villager, a longtime customer wrote about how Hoffmann presided over his tight, little 17th St. shop posted with cardboard signs like “Don’t even ask to use the phone: NO!” or “Do NOT even ask to borrow tools.”

The author, Michele Herman, recalled that she “told Emey that what I’d really always wanted was a white English Raleigh with a girl’s frame, hardly likely since the company had been out of business for years… . Somehow or other he had managed to stockpile original frames when Raleigh shut down operations in England and sold its operation to an Asian manufacturer.”

Herman also recalled the time an assistant to the filmmaker Steven Spielberg came in with a photo contact sheet and a magnifying glass to ask Hoffmann for a 1960s star-spangled bicycle seat like the one in the photo.

“He disappeared into his mystery chamber and returned nonchalantly with the exact same item,” she wrote.

“Emey was also an inventor,” said Jon. “He came up with a way to protect vehicles from being destroyed by landmines, but it was stolen by a manufacturer. He put all his money into a lawsuit and it’s still pending.”

Vadim Emanuel Hoffmann was born Oct. 30, 1941, to Manya Bushallow and Poul Hoffmann. His father was a Danish seaman and his mother was the daughter of Russian immigrants who lived in the Russian community in Auburn, N.Y.

“My mother was in a Russian folkdance troop and my father earned a living as a chef on oceangoing yachts,” Jon recalled. “He was away a lot and when he came home he’d bring exotic food.”

Emey and his brothers and sisters went to a small private elementary school, Stuyvesant School on Irving Place, and then to Seward Park High School. Emey worked in neighborhood bicycle shops during high school and, after service in the Navy, returned to the business.

His wife, Debra, a daughter, Debra, and a son, Andrew, survive in addition to Jon. Two sisters, Pilgrim Sutherland, of Albuquerque, N.M., and Lenina Gervais, of Port Jervis, N.Y., and two brothers, Ruslan, of Summit, N.J., and Poul, of Trappe, Md., also survive.

A memorial service was held Jan. 22 at St. George’s Church on Rutherford St.