by Scott Spitz
I am going to open a bike shop. I say that as a threat, not a promise. Seriously. I guess it's my antagonistic nature or my punk rock background, but from the beginning, the vision I've had has been to positively influence people's lives by promoting the joy of riding, and simultaneously to be a thorn in the side of those stubborn government officials and corporate executives who continue to sacrifice the people's quality of life for the sake of career status and monetary gain. I know I sound very angry, but to me it feels more like mischief. I plan on having a good time getting this thing going and utilizing it to make our city better.
The shop is going to be a combination commuter-focused retail operation and alternative transportation support station. Besides selling bikes (including an untraditional proprtion of single speeds) and accessories, we will also be offering showers and storage for commuters.
As well as providing physical amenities, we will also act to address all the issues of bicycle commuting through mechanics classes, speakers, movie showings, group rides, literature distribution, and so on. All of these are to promote the nearly endless list of benefits our cities gain from cycle commuting: reduced traffic congestion, mitigated sprawl, cleaner air quality, better individual health, less oil consumption...
Perhaps some of these goals will put us at odds with government officials and corporate interests. So be it.
I've been working on this project for nearly two years now. For the first year I planned to open the shop as a private business. I saw this as a way for me to escape the unfulfilling work environments that I always find myself trapped in, taking orders and compromising for the absurd demands of the bosses for small checks. Much as I wanted to start a transportation revolution, I also saw this as a personal revolution--but it didn't work out how I planned. As the golden capitalist rule goes, 'you gotta have money to make money.' OK, I just made that up, but it's true. I put in countless hours of work to get the shop going via private donors or a hefty bank loan. The private donors loved the idea, but didn't have the cash. The bank said I had a great business plan but no collateral to back it up with. So I had my heart broken for the first time.
I almost gave in and notched this failure up to the barriers our society puts in place for those who want to make change for the better. That seemed too defeatist for me, though. I couldn't give up.
Like prophetic whispers from a stranger, I kept hearing non-profit status calling me. Since personal gain never even factored in my plans, it grew more and more appealing. At first I was reluctant to take on non-profit status, as I thought it would put the business in the niche category of social action project, so minimizing it's subversive influence. Those ideas have so far proven groundless. So after a couple weeks of internal debate I went for it. I started researching non-profits and discovered a new goal--501c3 status.
Let me tell you, starting a non-profit organization isn't easy. Especially when you look to sell product as a source of income. That automatically puts you in a category most people don't recognize as non-profit. But there's a bigger obstacle--the need to form a board of directors.
By law, a non-profit organization must create a board of directors to handle decision-making. This can create compromised decisions and delays in action. Fortunately, I managed to round up a somewhat diverse group of individuals with great ideas, helpful hands in all the little things non-profits need to get started.
So where do we stand now? Well, after a considerable amount of paperwork, we've achieved our state non-profit status. We've created a website which we are continuously building. We raised over $3000 at our first fundraiser. We have t-shirts printed. We've created a monthly alternative transportation advocacy newsletter. And currently we are waiting to hear back from the IRS concerning our federal non-profit status--the golden 501c3. 501c3 will allow us to apply for grants and accept tax-deductible donations from private donors.
In the meantime we are doing research on grants and looking into loans, because the name of the game is money.
I have the most utmost confidence that this shop will be something revolutionary once we get it going. That is the problem--getting it going. We have a space reserved for us in the downtown area and the framework for this shop set up, but all that is nothing without the money to get us in the space. This is our current dilemma and that is where my story ends. When we generate this money I will then be able to continue this story of transportation revolution. I hope I have endless stories to tell you.
Oh, and we also take donations if you are feeling generous.