May 12, 2005
Sharing a cookie
Today was another rainy day. In my email I was having a deep philosophical conversation with a friend. I thought I might go for a run at lunchtime but didnít feel like getting drenched again. It was warm and stuffy in the office and I was sleepy. Everyone seemed a little out of it today and quiet. By about 3pm I had to get out of there and take a break, so I walked over to the bike shop and talked with a few people. I bought a hot cup of mocha and two peanut butter cookies, one for me and one for Terry at the shop. He recommended the peanut butter because thatís his favorite. It was really good too.
Then the inventor was there trying out tires on his rim. I talked to him about working on bikes and things. Then the possible new bookkeeper came in and was looking at the shop. He offered suggestions on how to make it more efficient and to keep track of our parts better. I soaked it in and thought about what he was saying. I think now that big changes are in store for the bike shop. It felt awkward to me talking to him, mainly because he was talking about changing everything before he was even sure if he was going to be doing the bookkeeping there. He talked about getting all of the parts in an inventory and being able to pull up parts on the computer and making hanging racks on rollers for the bikes and labeling major parts that come off bikes and entering them in the database and accounting for inventory. And he was talking to me like I was in charge of the shop and expected me to tell Andrew all of his ideas. I was just there having a cookie and coffee with Terry.
There is one thing I have to mention. There are a lot of people who would like to run that shop and they talk about how it should be run when no one else is around. A lot of places are like this though. Once you get to know who the people are you start seeing the quirks and weirdness of it all. In this case almost everyone is a volunteer. They hired a good bike guy to run the shop, but heís the only one getting money for this. But the volunteers that have been around a while seem to have strong opinions about how things should be done. I just want to fix bikes and help out where I can. But this is one reason I didnít volunteer for the board; I wanted to get to know the whole operation and who was involved. Things will change, I can feel it. People on the board are making decisions about the bike shop that the volunteers donít know about. One thing I can see coming is that the homeless people this shop serves will be left without a bike shop resource like this. Iíve heard people say something to the effect that itís not the mission of the bike shop to be a homeless shelter. But to me thatís one of the worthwhile things they were doing. Homeless people could volunteer and earn a bike. And several have. Terry is homeless and heís there every day working on bikes. Listening to Terry talk is exciting because heís getting excited about something. Heís organizing and leading rides now. Heís bringing in donated bikes. Heís getting people to bring their bikes in for repairs so he can earn bike parts. Heíll be riding in the Grand-Ole-days parade and heís excited about it. So what would happen with Terry if this shop should happen to close? I think building a comfort level, trust and community takes a long time. This shop has itís own community. But the mission may be different than the board thinks. I see that they want to expand and increase in size, opening another location in higher biking areas, catering to those who are wealthier and already bike. Teaching classes to kids in schools and to whomever else will pay for biking education. Weíll see. Iím just observing and helping where I can. And to tell you the truth, eating a cookie with a homeless guy and listening to him get excited about doing these things is a lot more interesting than getting a new shop on the greenway. Itís like spotting a flower that found a way to grow up through the cracks in an urban sidewalk. The busy city people rush by in their all-important urban daily missions and fail to notice the beauty of what is at their feet.
Posted by carl1236 at May 12, 2005 10:09 PM | Love your Neighbor
What gives you this feeling that they're going to take The Depot upscale? I know they want to open another location or two, but it sounds like they're changing the whole mission of the thing?
I didn't know Terry was homeless; the thought never even crossed my mind. In a way I'm glad I didn't know, because I'd hate to have it taint my interactions with him. Then again, I probably wouldn't think to bring him a cookie otherwise...
Posted by: nathan at May 13, 2005 1:42 PM
1. The president of the organization said there are more bikers on that side of town and that the shop would do better there. He wants to compete with other bike shops who also offer education.
2. He's expressed his dislike for homeless people and said we have to be careful about this becoming a homeless shelter.
3. What is their mission? Their main mission I've been told is not really a 'community' bike shop where people can fix their bikes, or where low income people can get their bikes fixed for free or almost nothing, but to be an 'education facility,' mainly for school students, and for recycling bikes. They use the bikes they sell & customer repair jobs as income to fund the shop and other projects. 'Members' can fix their bikes there but some have been told they can only do it once per month.
Although they have a program where homeless people can 'earn a bike' by volunteering, which they have to fix and build up themselves, they don't encourage that and most of those volunteers leave before getting their bikes.
4. The building they are in is going to be sold and they will most likely need a new home. If they cannot find one suitable, (cheap enough) they will drop the St. Paul location. This doesn't seem to mean anything to the president of the organization. I'm sure they have their concerns about money, but it's my feeling they don't really see a value in having this shop downtown St. Paul, other than the opportunity was there when they first opened their doors.
5. There are many bike shops that like the recycling and school children education programs they do, but don't see 'community bike shop' as part of an 'bicycle advocacy' role. Proliferation of bike shops cannot sit well with them. In the past many donations of parts and volunteer labor came from bike shops, now none that I see. We did get a donation of 21 bikes from a defunct bike dealer but they were mostly old bikes the bike depot didn't really want.
Of course my observations could be way off but we'll see what happens. Maybe something will change my mind. I'm still positive about it though and think some changes at this location will be good for it, and healthy. I know I can have some contribution to make there, so I'm continuing to volunteer.
Let me ask you, What do think about the bike depot?
Posted by: John at May 14, 2005 12:12 AM
Hmm, I can see how there might be two admirable goals and that it might not make sense to try to tackle them both with one organization. On the one hand, there is enabling people who might have difficulty with personal transportation work themselves into a better situation. On the other, there is trying to get more mainstream people to choose the bike for transportation over the personal automobile. I can respect Bikeped for choosing to tackle just the one.
I also understand that the 'pedestrian' part of the alliance is looked at as baggage tagging along to be dropped when possible.
So the building is looking pretty hopeless, eh? That's too bad. Sounds like a lot of it was just unfortunate timing - too far ahead of the neighborhood with too little cash to keep it going for the neighborhood to catch up.
Posted by: nathan at May 17, 2005 12:59 PM
Well, not sure on the status yet. It looks like it'll be around for a year, and there are possibilities for other sites I've heard. So if anyone hears of a good location, with reduced or free rent, in or near downtown St. Paul, I'm sure they would like to hear about it. I think it's a good asset for community building.
Yes, good point Nathan. Maybe there needs to be a supervised bike program for homeless people as a partnership with another organization that can provide better services.
I admit there are a lot of dynamics I don't understand yet in this community. It's kind of difficult to survey the entire situation unless you can see it all, which I can't. I'm just now meeting some of the volunteers behind the scenes and finding out the real way some of these programs work, with all of their challenges. For instance, the Ordway wanted 40 bikes for the art bikes program, but didn't pick them up and then because of low registration numbers, they won't need nearly as many bikes. In the mean-time the tiny space at the bike shop is filled with storing these bikes, at the same time it gets 20 more bikes as donations. Also another issue with space is customers who don't pick up their bikes after they are repaired. Well, it's strange but it's happening. There must be at least 10 bikes in there that are customer bikes that have been there for months. The owners have been contacted and they haven't taken the time to come in.
So, I can see part of the frustration on a cluttered shop. There has to be space to teach classes in also.
It's not hopeless, and I think this developer had a great community building idea. We'll see what happens in the next year.
Posted by: John at May 17, 2005 3:57 PM