Blackstone bike co-op picks up pieces after fire

By Elizabeth Ptacek

After damages caused by an extra-alarm fire forced Blackstone Bicycle Works (BBW) out of their home on 61st and Blackstone, the non-for-profit initiative is still selling bicycles to the community. BBW, whose inventory was left relatively unharmed by the fire, will temporarily operate out of a trailer, relying on bike sales and fundraisers to remain in business until it can move back into the Resource Center.

Since 1994, BBW has provided youth in the Hyde Park and Woodlawn communities with opportunities to learn about operating a small business as well as the mechanics of bike repair. Through programs such as Earn-a-Bike, participants can work a certain number of hours repairing bicycles in order to earn a bicycle or become paid employees of BBW. The store also recycles used bicycles from community members, repairing and reselling them to generate revenue.

“The kids we work with come mostly from the Woodlawn neighborhood, but most of our sales and repairs come from the Hyde Park neighborhood and University community,” said Andrew Gregg, manager of BBW.

While the fire, which took place on April 25, did not cause much damage to BBW’s bike shop, other businesses suffered extensive damage. The building had served as a headquarters for the Baffler, a literary journal, as well as Big Fish Furniture shop and Monk Parakeet, a carpentry workshop. The blaze also destroyed 10 years worth of artwork by internationally renowned artist Dan Peterman and placed the building in threat of demolition.

BBW members, however, hope that the building will eventually be repaired so that the shop can be reopened. “The damage to the bike shop was only through water and smoke,” Gregg said. “Our part of the building has been deemed safe by inspectors.”

Meanwhile, members of the BBW must work quickly to sell their overflow of inventory. “We have been fixing bikes sporadically and have plenty that are in sellable condition,” Gregg said. “We’re trying to get to a point where we can have a sale, but in the meantime, we’re waiting until we can move into the building.”

To remain operational until the shop can return to its home, BBW has established a temporary bike shop which is operating from a trailer in front of the building on 61st Street. “Historically, May and June have been our top sales months,” said Andrew Gregg of BBW. “For that reason, we are particularly concerned about getting up and running as soon as possible.”

In addition to the continuing bike sales in front of the building on Fridays and Saturdays, BBW is also selling higher priced merchandise on E-Bay and planning fundraisers for over the summer. “We’d like to plan a benefit involving bands and bike sales,” Gregg said. “Someplace where beer and music could be enjoyed inside or outside and bikes could be lined up and sold would be ideal.”

BBW will rely on these bike sales to continue offering youth programs for the Woodlawn community.

“We have suffered quite a bit in terms of working with the kids, since we don’t have an official spot,” Gregg said. “BBW relies on its sales of used bikes, accessories, and repairs to fund our youth programming.”

However, members of the BBW remain hopeful that all aspects of the shop will return to the Hyde Park and Woodlawn communities. “We will be back,” Gregg said. “Our plans are to move back into that building and right now it’s just a matter of keeping the business alive and keeping the people that have been working with the bike shop there.”

The BBW has also created a Fire Recovery Fund to which people can contribute through the Resource Center in southeast Chicago.