Tuesday, August 30, 2016

the downslope of the arc: Citybikes

It's official.

Citybikes Workers' Cooperative, a shop I was a part of for 17 years (and a co-owner for 15 of those years), is consolidating its two shops into one. After over twenty years of running two locations, it is closing the larger location, selling off all remaining bicycles, and downsizing staff and operations into the original location at SE 20th and Ankeny St.

(Below: the original Citybikes, fondly referred to by workers as The Mother Shop or MotherShip.)


I can't say I'm surprised. 2008 was the last banner year for Citybikes (and for the bike industry as a whole in Portland), and since then the shop has operated at a growing loss.

(The Annex, below. I was hired just a week before its opening in 1995, and worked the overwhelming majority of my shifts there. I was still working there when the front mural was designed and painted, and a small piece of became the cover for my second album, "Ten Miles")

Every now and then, things happen that make me think I may have dodged a bullet, like when I dropped out of grad school. Or when I walked away from a full-time career in the bicycle industry, and from this shop. I make no predictions (at least publicly) about where I think Citybikes may ultimately be headed, but it's useful to remember that every business -- and indeed, every human venture of any sort -- has an arc. That includes you and me, too.
Still, I'll miss the mural when it goes.

Since leaving in Fall 2012, I have seldom looked back in longing. I still fix bicycles on the side for friends and family and others; but I have no desire to work full-time in the industry again. Like many of Citybikes original customer base (who worked on their bikes themselves and had little use for carbon fiber, disc brakes and the like),  I would not know what do to if I were to look for work in the bike biz today. It's grown even less sustainable than before, and the emphasis remains on yearly changes ("upgrades") to product lines and, where possible planned obsolescence. Bicycles are becoming technologically more sophisticated -- too often, pointlessly so -- and harder for the private individual to work on at home. Simply changing a flat on an 11-speed internally-geared rear wheel is stupidly complicated, and most folks would rather their local bike shop deal with it. Which, if you're a bicycle retailer, wholesaler or manufacturer, is the point.

I bear no ill will against the Citybikes of today. Some of my former co-workers remain, but most have moved on and now when I visit I'm greeted most of the time by someone young, fresh-faced and earnest. I may inquire about used bits when the Annex closes in the fall, but I certainly won't be mercenary about it. Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. Citybikes is on the downward slope and, barring any radical change in the bicycle retail landscape in southeast Portland, I think that trend will continue for the time being. I wish the remaining owners luck.

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