DRACUT -- It understates the case to call Bill Fox a sole proprietor.
Fox has owned the Foxco bicycling sales and service shop in town for 40 years, the last eight in a 1,250-square-foot space at the Bridgewood Plaza on Bridge Street. He recently decided that he would retire after the spring season, most likely sometime next month.
And for all 40 years, Fox was the business. He never had an employee.
"I would be a terrible boss," he said with a laugh. "Always yelling and growling."
Fox, 67, simply said it was time.
"I've been told that sometimes you just know when it's time," he said.
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He also feels a whole lot better than he did three years ago, when he was stricken with cancer. Amazingly, he never missed a day, even as he underwent six chemotherapy treatments.
Fox, who never married, said his customers gave him strength.
"It was just really nice," he said. "Sometimes they would pop in just to say, 'How are you feeling today?' It would happen even if they weren't buying anything. I would man the counter and fix things whenever I could.
"It was really touching."
A lifelong resident of Dracut's Bridge Street, Fox is the son of independent business owners -- his parents ran Fox Dairy up the street, and he lived right next door. He studied accounting at Nichols College in Dudley, then completed a five-and-a-half-year stint as a pilot in the Air Force, including a year in Vietnam.
When he came back home in 1974, he knew he wanted to run his own business. He decided on bicycles and snowmobiles because "they were hot at that time."
"The fitness craze just took off in the '70s," said Fox, who rode bicycles as a kid but otherwise held no special affinity for them. "It seemed like if one kid got a new bike, the next kid on the block would get one, and then the next one..."
On May 20, 1974, Fox opened Foxco at 1595 Bridge St. -- the site of his parents' dairy business.
"I had about 2,500 square feet, but not all of it was suitable for retail," he said.
But while the snowmobile element of the business went away after a few years, Fox eventually got to the point where he was selling about 350 bikes a year at his first store
"When I got started, the 10-speed bike was hot," Fox said, adding that they went for about $100 at the time. "By the 1990s, the mountain bike was the big thing. Now it's kind of half-and-half, as we're back to the dropped-handlebar road bike, what we would have called the 10-speed back in the day."
While Foxco has sold a variety of brands over the years, these days it focuses on the California-based Specialized brand of bicycles, parts and accessories. Fox said his bike prices range from $470 to $3,600, the later of which includes a solid carbon frame and up to 22 speeds.
Fox also offers minor adjustments to bikes purchased at his store for free.
Despite all the bells and whistles of the modern bike, he said color represents "fifty percent of the decision."
In 2006, a developer offered a price for Fox's property that he couldn't turn down, and what was once the Foxco bike shop was razed to make room for a multi-tenant commercial building at 1595 Bridge St.
"I saw it being razed, and I didn't cry," Fox said. "I knew I was ready for a new chapter, just as I do now."
The business moved a half-mile down the street to the Bridgewood Plaza.
Fox, who conceded there was a small chance Foxco could be sold rather than closed, looks forward to more riding time of his own during retirement.
"The Nashua River Trail is a really nice ride," he said, noting its course through Ayer, Groton, Pepperell, Dunstable and up to Nashua. "The Freeman Trail in Chelmsford is nice for families and, of course, the Minuteman Trail in Bedford is beautiful -- as long as it's not too crowded."
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