Monday, December 19, 2016

the end of an era: last day at the Annex

Today was the last day of business at Citybikes Annex.
The second location of Citybikes Workers Cooperative had opened May 1, 1995. I had been hired at Citybikes a week before, and my first tasks were to help finish painting and erecting the wall-mounted bicycle display racks.

The Grand Opening party included potluck finger foods, a dance party and live music, including a pickup trio with me and another new co-worker involved and followed by another co-worker's more famous band (does anyone remember the New Bad Things? I guess they were bigger in Europe than here.)

I worked at Citybikes from April 25, 1995 till mid-July 2001, and again from March 4, 2003 until September 24, 2012 (the break was for grad school and a year working at another bike shop).
During that time, in addition to repairing and selling bicycles, I also worked as an apprentice trainer, an instructor/supervisor at bike repair classes and open shop nights for the public, and for four years, I was the lead purchaser, managing a large budget and overseeing the stocking of product at the co-op's two retail locations.

Throughout my entire time at Citybikes, I earned an hourly wage that finally approached Portland's living wage (at the time) in the last two yeara of my employment there. There was no formal health insurance plan -- we could get a "stipend" -- a token amount annually, perhaps $1000 a year, give or take -- which we could spend on any health care we chose, including alternative therapies not usually covered by insurance. Owners earned Patronage Dividends in years when the business enjoyed a profit after all expenses were covered, paid in percentages over a staggered schedule and only in the summer months when cash flow allowed it.

For young, single people without kids, Citybikes wasn't a bad place to work. The cooperative structure meant that decisions took longer to make, but everyone's input was valued. With as many as fifteen equal owners there were, in theory, no bosses (though in practice one could push his/her agenda by sheer force of personality and/or after-hours cowboy behavior, both of which happened more often than any of would care to admit). As some of us got older, married and had children, it got harder to live on a bike mechanic's wages, and some folks left to go to school or take a more white-collar job.

The co-op structure attracted folks whose politics were usually pretty far to the left, including several people who were active in radical politics (including Jobs with Justice, the cause for Palestinian statehood, and even the IWW (the "Wobblies"). Two of my co-workers had been "red diaper" babies, raised by parents who were card-carrying Communists. And one of the original founders of the co-op was especially active whenever he wasn't at work, also founding a co-op leftist bookstore and even, for a time, a "school" for political activists.

In the Fall of 2012, it all came to an end for me when I reached a turning point on my relationship with one co-worker and, as a result, with the entire co-op Board. I quit that fall, and threw myself into a new, completely different line of work. There was a grieving process for me and finances were precarious for a time; but now, four years later, I am established in my new career. The co-worker who had caused me so much grief left the business about eight months after I did. The co-op lost some people and hired some new people, and things went on. Meanwhile, I've been growing and slowly gaining notice in my music career. I know that everything happened for a reason, and ultimately, for good.

Today, I have no bitter feelings about Citybikes. If I have next to nothing financially to show for my nearly two decades there, I learned a lot about bicycle mechanics, human relations, and my own sense of personal identity. While I didn't get rich (or even earn enough to start a nest egg), I came away with other things that still feel valuable today.

Today I stopped by the Annex to say a final goodbye. Today was the last day of business for the Annex, because the recession finally caught up with Citybikes last year, forcing the cooperative to consolidate its operations. The Board elected to shrink its operations, get out of the business of selling new bicycles and pull back on its used bicycle sales as well. Everything that could not be moved to the Mother Shop was sold off at deep discounts. I figured if I went in on the last day, someone there might be willing to cut me a deal, and I was right. I picked up a few used parts, some gloves for my cold reduction project, and a sweatshirt because it was their last one and they were willing to let it go for dirt cheap. I had a nice chat with the one co-worker I knew -- the other two were hired after I'd left -- and after I made my purchases I looked around at the bare walls and the handful of bicycles still sitting on the showroom floor. It was a little strange, and strangely fitting, to be there today.


I wished them well, walked out, loaded up my bicycle and turned for one last look. I helped paint that door orange (the first time, years ago before there was a mural).

 Do you recognize the mural behind me? That mural was apinted during my time at the shop, and I wrote the lyrics for the song "Ten Miles" around the same time. The mural was funded by a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, so it may stay up for awhile yet, which is good.
Citybikes will move out of the building by the end of the month, and then it will rent the building (which it owns) to the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC), a non-profit that teaches people how to create and self-publish their works.

Citybikes will continue to run a bicycle repair business at its original location with a much smaller workforce. I wish them well.

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