[WATCH] Malta’s oldest bicycle store is 130 years old

Bicycle shop has passed through four generations of the Magri family, starting in late 1880s and surviving two World Wars

The 130-year-old cycling shop

Businesses come and go, with some appearing one day and disappearing the next. But that isn’t the case with one particular bicycle shop in Malta, run by the Magri family for almost 130 years.

Michelina Magri opened Magri Cycles in 1889 in Mosta, offering bicycle repairs and quickly gaining popularity with the cyclists of the day.

We asked Paul Magri, Michelina’s great-grandson, who now runs the main business, what the secret to having a family business go on for so long was.

“Passion,” he said, “Our family has kept up this bicycle tradition, passing it down from one generation to the next.”

One of the original facades of the Magri bicycle shop in Mosta
One of the original facades of the Magri bicycle shop in Mosta

“Michelina realised bicycles were becoming a thing on the market, and started providing a repair service for the bikes which were being imported in Malta. She became the family’s breadwinner.”

“Her son, Pawlinu – my grandfather – and his siblings also got involved and pushed the business forward. Unfortunately, he died young, but his wife and children kept the business going.”

“One of his sons, my father John, eventually took over and made the running of the shop his main job, with his brother, Joe, also increasing his role. One repaired bicycles, the other imported them.”

After that, the family didn’t look back, he said, with the venture surviving through two World Wars.

“Once Joe decided to retire from the business, it was up to me to pick up the baton, which I did gladly as I always loved bicycles and was also a cyclist.”

“I started a new shop in Mosta, and we gradually came to where we are now – with the opening of a new shop and service centre in Iklin.”

“My father, now 76, still runs the shop in Mosta, the workshop of which has remained untouched – a testimony to times gone by.”

“I remember, when my dad ran the shop as a younger man, he had time to go out cycling in the afternoon, training for competitions. He could combine his job with doing sport. Nowadays you need to be always available to respond to clients and suppliers. Things were more relaxed before.”

Michelina Magri opened Magri Cycles in 1889, starting with bicycle repairs and becoming the family’s breadwinner
Michelina Magri opened Magri Cycles in 1889, starting with bicycle repairs and becoming the family’s breadwinner

Throughout the years there has been a shift from bicycles being associated with children, to adults now displaying a much greater interest in this two-wheeled means of transportation, Magri said.

“We often discuss how the market has changed,” he said, “In my experience, children are today more into technological gadgets than bicycles. When I was young, I remember children would often be given a bicycle for their First Holy Communion. Things are different now – they have more pressure at school and they love computers and mobile phones.

“On the other hand, people in their 40s and 50s seem to have caught on to a trend of cycling as a means of keeping fit, and they buy bikes for this reason. The quantity of bikes sold has remained the same, I think, but the market has moved to middle-aged people.”

Magri said the fact that children have switched to doing things which do not require physical fitness worries him. “I enjoy seeing children who are excited to get a bike – I believe cycling helps them… even academically, as it helps their minds rest. Cycling is my medicine.”

Acknowledging that cycling in Malta has not caught on as a means of commuting as much as elsewhere in Europe, Magri said more respect on the roads was essential.

“There needs to be more collaboration between cyclists, drivers and pedestrians,” he said. “Some people seem to be too ready to engage in conflict on Malta’s roads. It’s useless to have improved traffic systems and bicycle lanes if there isn’t a stronger element of consideration and courtesy. Some people enjoy driving their cars or riding their motorbikes – I enjoy cycling. But later on during the day I might be driving my car. I believe respect is key.”