It is humbling to think back on the past three years of the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op. In 2016, it was just me, learning how to fix bikes, feeling overwhelmed with starting a business, and falling in love with a new city. In 2017, I was surrounded by friends, thinking expansively, and laying the foundation. In 2018 it is becoming harder to sum up.
The Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op is a community bike shop in New Haven founded in late 2015. We have open shop hours for people to come work on their bike, a used bike shop to buy affordable bikes, and a bike donation program that donates over 200 bikes a year to adults who need them for transportation. It is almost entirely volunteer run, and we prioritize our community alongside our work.
Building a project like the Co-op is hard. There aren’t many road maps for something that lives in the middle of things; we are part non-profit, part small business, part DIY, part bike shop, part community space. We are dissatisfied with the way other businesses/non-profits/spaces look, feel, and operate. Everything around us is undergoing rapid change, sometimes in support of our values and other times in opposition to them. It is hard to know exactly what we want. It is hard for me to know how to build it right.
But when I look around me, I see a bunch of people who know exactly what they want out of the Co-op. I see people who bought a bike and gushed about it to friends. I see people who read about us in the news and donate to us, people who partner with us to give out bikes, people who eat bread on Thursdays, who play music here, who fix bikes. I see people who come every single day. I see you all actively contribute to a space that is inclusive, honest, useful, and works to help other people by building a community.
All of these things I kept seeing were a reflection of the space I wanted to build. I realized that it was no longer just me pushing the Co-op forward, but a whole group of diverse and excited friends, all with the same goal. I spent a lot of time listening. I focused on supporting and empowering those around me. I trusted our core values and let others take ownership and make decisions.
And as a result, I got to live in the positive feedback loop that I love. I got to step back and be a part of something bigger than me. Because of you, I biked off ramps into a snowstorm. I felt goosebumps at a SoFar Sounds show in the space. I watched everyone sing Happy Birthday to Chainbreakers with one hundred candle-lit cupcakes. I didn’t worry about the shop when I was gone during open hours. I helped unload truckloads of donated bikes after successful bike drives. I rode up East Rock and made coffee. Because of you, I got to watch my friends wheelie in Fair Haven. Because of you, I got bear hugged on a hot summer day by a CMHC patient who just got a new bike from us. Because you helped make this happen, we feel welcome, we feel full, we feel supported, and we feel excited.
Past years had parts of this, but this year I really believe that the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op became bigger than me. I couldn’t be more proud, I couldn’t be more excited, and I couldn’t be more humbled by all of you.
This makes me so energized to build together in 2019. We will make the volunteer experience clearer, easier, and more fulfilling with things like volunteer handbooks and Andrew’s new check-in station. We will build more infrastructure in the Co-op with a New-Bike-Day zine and a better fixed-bike room. We will get more bikes out the door. We will grow our hours and expand our reach with new programs and more funding.
But we will also make time to slow down and appreciate each other. We will take care of one another, we will be patient, listen, and love the people working along side of us. We are all part of one big family, and we will always keep searching for love and progress.
From the outside, we are an old brick building with a small sign above our door, a glowing ‘BSBC’ sign illuminating the window at night. But inside we are warmed under lights, friends, knowledge, dirty hands, and the betterment of our city. We make decisions based on principles and beliefs, not based on what makes us more money. We take care of each other and love meeting new friends. We always show up; to the shop, to events, to things that mean something to one another.
We are a community learning with our hands, laughing with strangers, and building a better world together.
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Thanks for being a part of the ride, and see you in 2019!