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From Wayne Bingham, who bought the business a number of years ago.

If you were into bicycles and lived in the DC metro area (like me), you knew who Mel Pinto was. He was legendary, as was The Pro Shop in Georgetown, Mel's first (and ultimately, also last) bike shop. It was in DC just across the river from Arlington VA. Going there was a pilgrimage to the shrine of exotic bicycles, parts and accessories. I bought my first "bike shop" bicycle from The Pro Shop in 1975. It wasn't the bike I wanted (my housemate had a PX10 which I would have preferred) but it was what I could afford, a Pinto branded Urago. At one time Mel had six shops, including one in Florida. They were all owned by Mel, but independent businesses with different names, with the exception of a second Pro Shop on the ground floor of the MPI warehouse in Falls Church.

Mel was born in Morocco and grew up in France where he became a lifelong bicycle racing fan. He started Mel Pinto Imports in 1958 after splitting with his brother and their toy and hobby wholesale business, and because he wanted to bring European racing bicycles to the US. MPI grew into the premier Gitane importer and distributor in the late 60s and early 70s, but that was after a long struggle to get established. I once asked Mel why he chose Gitane. He told me that it wasn't his first choice, that he wanted something Italian, but everyone turned him down. Gitane was the only company that agreed to sell him some bikes. He bought a small batch of Gitanes and imported them. He then put as many as he could in his car and drove up and down the East coast trying to get bike shops to buy them. Unsuccessfully. The way Mel tells it was that he came up with the idea of giving a bike to a shop, and they didn't have to pay for it until it sold. The caveat was that they had to put the bike in the front window. That apparently worked and MPI was on its way. Mel claimed lots of "firsts", both in ways of doing things and brands of bikes and components brought into the US. Some of them are probably true. Mel had some valuable attributes that helped him succeed. He was European, smart, spoke five languages fluently, and was gregarious, outgoing and social. Ultimately, he was a contemporary of, and friends with, the likes of Ernesto Colnago, Cino Cinelli, Tullio Campagnolo, the heads of Simplex, TA, VAR, Ideale and many others. I can only imagine being at a dinner table with people like that during the Euro bike shows back in the day.

I was very fortunate to get to know Mel on a more personal level almost 20 years ago. That began with talking to him about vintage bikes and the Cirques, especially when I took over hosting Cirque events in Leesburg where he finally agreed to attend. By that time Mel was semi-retired and considering options for selling MPI. In our later conversations (and around the time I retired from my career job), Mel talked more about his desire to sell and some of the people who had expressed interest. Most of that was in general terms, but eventually he suggested that I should consider buying it. We discussed it several different times, but I was not really ready to make the commitment. I did strike a deal of sorts. I had free time so I offered to go to the MPI warehouse a couple days a week to help sort through things, make suggestions on what was valuable and what wasn't, and identify items that might be sellable in the vintage market. For the latter, I set up an account for my home business Black Market Bikes and started selling some things, basically on commission. This went on for about seven months. During that time I got to spend a lot of time just hanging out with Mel. We went to lunch together, and sat in his office and talked. Mostly though, I listened to Mel tell stories and I got to ask questions. Eventually, of course, I ended up acquiring MPI and I'm now into my 13th year. How time flies.

There was a lot more to Mel than MPI of course. He took a randomly held amateur bike race and turned it into the National Capital Open, a pro level annual race that ran for 25 years. He created the National Capital Velo Club as a local amateur racing organization that still continues today. Mel sponsored Baltimore legend and national track champion Bobby Phillips' annual Turkey Day race which also continued for 25 years. He became involved in Gitane's Pro Racing Team and traveled with the team in the US and Europe. And all of this is just the tip or the iceberg. Mel's influence runs wide and deep across the bicycle industry, and his legacy will be recognized forever.

I will miss seeing Mel's face and hearing his voice, especially when he would call me just to say, "Did you see what happened in today's stage?"

RIP Mr. Pinto
9/9/1923 - 3/28/2021
 

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Thank you so much for sharing the story Merlin. It’s a sad event but a happy story.
Our prayers are for Mr. Pinto and his family & friends.
 

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Thanks for sharing. I have been to that shop I think just off the bridge connecting Arlington and Georgetown if I remember right. Sorry to hear this.
 
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