This guest blog post was submitted by Ben Rainbow of Seattle. Ben is the major domo of the soon-to-open Back Alley Bike Repair Shop.
|Photo by Ben Rainbow.|
When the decision was made to close Bike Port at the end of 2011, discussion ensued about the future of JRA Bike Shop’s Pioneer Square location. Todd Vogel, local sustainable business visionary and Pioneer Square mover and shaker, was interested in having the bike shop relocate to the alley area of his historic Nord Building. The space had been used as a non-profit conference area as well as a staging area for First Thursday Art Walk parties and receptions, and Nord Alley has hosted World Cup viewing parties, as well as a rotating array of art installations.
Hmm, let’s see… funky cool space in the heart of Pioneer Square, alley access, socially progressive landlord? Sounds pretty good. Then I come to find out that the remaining entirety of the ground floor of the Nord Building will be the new headquarters of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and current tenants in the modern downstairs office space include Feet First, OneEnergy Renewables, and the International Sustainability Institute.
As the manager of JRA’s Pioneer Square shop, I saw this as a perfect opportunity to re-invest in Pioneer Square and have an urban commuter repair cycling emporium right off Occidental Park and the corner of First and Main. But for JRA owner Eric Berg, the massive amount of energy to move two bike shops in the same year (he had already relocated his Greenwood shop) meant change was in the air. It was with Eric’s sincerest blessings that I would buy out an inventory of tools and shop fixtures and re-open in the new alley location as Back Alley Bike Repair. Like all worthy business ventures, we sealed the deal over some delicious local pints.
I accept that creating an appealing alley destination for women (and men) is but an initial challenge that I will use to measure our success. It also might seem unlikely that people would even think to go into an alley at all. With the nature of JRA’s customers being car-free cycling commuters and the unique vision of Todd Vogel’s International Sustainability Institute to ‘activate’ the alley, I will bring my 15+ years working with bikes, urban planners, non-profits, and artists to establish what I hope will be a true gem in the Pioneer Square neighborhood.
There is a dedicated group of high-energy people called The Hub Seattle, which is developing an innovative community workspace in the former Elliot Bay Bookstore. As the vision of many passionate and invested people plays itself out, Back Alley Bike Repair will be but the first of several small businesses to transform the Nord Alley. (I laugh to myself thinking that I’ll offer the City of Seattle its first taxable transaction in Nord Alley’s history.) This video illustrates the vision of turning the alley into active space.
To me, it’s a perfect blend of jazz, funk, and punk and a longtime dream of mine to transform the urban cycling experience. I’ve had nothing short of a blast working with Eric and his JRA Bike Shop over the past year and a half. I think it’s safe to say our customers have had some fun too. That’s not likely to change at Back Alley Bike Repair. The support I’ve received from other local businesses has been amazing. After some shop build out and dialing in the space, I hope to have things in place by Valentine’s Day. Catch the latest updates on our Facebook page. Thanks for supporting your local bike shop and see you soon!