Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ new shop brings hope to blighted neighbourhood

The neighbourhood on 111 Avenue where Edmonton Bicycle Commuters has decided to open its second location in the city is, shall we say, a little rough around the edges.

It’s a few blocks west of Commonwealth Stadium where many of the shop fronts sit empty. There’s a bottle depot nearby, and the tenant in the front half of the building that the cyclists will soon occupy is a massage studio. But inside the large, former carpentry workshop at 9305 111 Avenue, EBC’s shop co-ordinator Alex Hindle sees a lot of potential.

“We’ve got two months to get everything spic and span,” he says. “Most of it will be done by volunteers, hopefully.”

The space is set to open April 1 in time for the spring bike rush.

The bicycle commuters have become a well-known resource in recent years for anyone who’s part of the growing urban living movement, where people eschew malls, power centres and automobile-reliance in favour of neighbourhoods where they can easily walk or cycle. It’s a subculture that encompasses everything from tight-jeaned hipsters with fixed-gear, vintage road frames, to the dedicated environmentalists in face masks and goggles who pedal their way through minus 30 C.

The group has provided repair assistance and advocacy on behalf of cyclists for years, and has even ventured recently into supporting bike culture with artist nights, dance parties and art auctions.

But that was all at their current location in Old Strathcona at 10047 80 Avenue where there’s no shortage of artists and students – a demographic that supposedly makes up a large part of their legion. For the past two years, the buzz was that the group was in discussions to get space in the former Alberta Cycle building on 118 Avenue, which the city purchased and is
renovating for arts groups.

Why isn’t EBC moving there, where one would think they’re more likely to fit in?

“A lot of low income people ride bikes and need a do-it-yourself shop. And there’s also a good mix of middle class people up there, too,” explains EBC president Adam Burgess about the decision. Burgess says EBC was interested in the Alberta Cycle building, but he says there was no time line for when space would be available. Other space was being considered at Eastwood School, but he says asbestos needs to be removed. Again, no one was able to say when they could have it.

“Things have been getting crowded and busy at our current location,” Burgess says. “But also we’d like to serve a different community. This space came up and we decided to take the plunge.”

Burgess says it’s still possible his group could move into another
location, like the Alberta Cycle building, at a future date.
ArtsHab, the Edmonton Arts Council body that has been overseeing the transition of the Alberta Cycle Building, has no hard feelings about EBC’s decision to seek other digs.

“Their time lines and our time lines don’t necessarily mesh and that’s unfortunate,” ArtsHab executive director Linda Huffman says. Huffman explains there have been challenges with remediating the Alberta Cycle building for mould and asbestos, and that her group has been waiting for funding approval before committing to a time line for occupancy. Huffman says construction on will begin for sure next month, though. And
she says EBC could still be welcome at a later time.

“I haven’t talked to them yet but I hope their new space works out for them. I wish them the best,” she adds.

For the McCauley Community League, news of the cyclists’ arrival on 111 Avenue was both a surprise and a reason to celebrate.

“On first blush, it sounds totally awesome and will be a great addition to the area,” the league’s president, Rob Stack, said in an email to Gig City earlier this week. Businesses in the blighted neighbourhood are tickled, too. Magda Urban, who has operated the Budapest Delicatessen on 111 Avenue for 27 years, hopes the cyclists’ arrival is a sign the area is improving after many years of decline. She’s also hoping to see some of them as customers, noting she’s planning to offer take-out bowls of goulash towards the end of February.

Autumn Lee, the manager of Mamacita’s Massage, was even familiar with EBC, knowing that it’s a place where people went to learn how to fix their own bikes.

“I think it’s good for an area like this,” says Lee.

Burgess says the new location will offer the same services as the old, such as sales of donated second-hand bicycles, bike-related courses and helping people with repairs. It will also assist with the SPOKE, an Edmonton Police Service initiative which teaches kids to fix bikes. The first sessions of the SPOKE were run with the help of EBC volunteers in the Alberta Cycle building, and the participants were referred to the program by EPS after they’d been caught stealing bikes. Burgess says the program will now include more youth. He says it’s believed that EBC was the first commuter bicycle co-operative in North America when it started in 1980. While some cities now have multiple commuter organizations, he believes EBC’s new shop could be another first.

“There are many cities with multiple shops. But it’s been said we’ll be the only one with two locations,” Burgess says.