Gary Duke looks at what remains of the family store that has stood on the corner of Queen and Bathurst for 94 years and sighs.

He still has trouble believing a six-alarm fire wiped out everything he and his relatives had built up for almost a century. On Thursday, he went back to the place he’d called home for so long, taking a maudlin trip down memory lane, wondering if things will ever be back to the way they were.
“There’s not one shred of evidence that it was actually a bicycle store,” he shakes his head. “You know, not a wheel, not a handlebar, not a seat, not a frame. It’s just gone. And there was a lot of bicycles in there.”

In a great moment in bad timing, Dukes had just received its shipment of bicycles for spring, a time when thousands come to the famous store to buy a new two wheeler or get their old one tuned up. This year, they’ll have to go somewhere else.

Duke remains stoic about the loss, and while he vows to return, he’s still uncertain how much his insurance will cover. “We want to rebuild and then it becomes a matter of how we go about doing that,” is all he’ll say.

As terrible as the fire was, destroying the famous façade that gave the business its distinctive look, Duke believes at least a few valuable items are salvageable. His business records, the inventory and all sales are stored on a computer hard drive and he believes it survived the flames in the rear of the building.

He tried to return to check it out on Thursday,  but police stopped him before he could get near it.

“I own the bike shop,” he told the officer. 

“Sir, you can’t get in there,” he was told.
“Can’t get in there?” he responded

“No, no.”

As much as everyone who lived and worked in the area wants to return to see if there’s anything left, there’s good reason for the caution – a gas leak still hasn’t been capped. “At this time it’s not safe,” confirms Capt. Brian Bertram of Toronto Fire Services. “Perhaps in the near future it may be.”

But that future is very unclear. The family still has its website up and running and plans to keep customers up-to-date on its rebuilding plans as they figure out what to do next.

“Over the next few days we will do our best to provide you with as much information on this website as possible,” it promises on the home page. “We have a great deal of work ahead of us, but rest assured, Duke’s Cycle will be back.”

For now, though, no one can say how many rides away that may be.

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