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If your organization is just starting out, any location is better than no location. Choosing an ideal location is a luxury of funding and organizational success. All the same, sometimes success can be attributed to location, location, location.
- Next to a University Campus: This is especially good if you are a volunteer organization. With every spring comes a new batch of energetic students to replenish your volunteer supply.
- Near public transportation: Buses, trains, subways, and light rails put you closer to people with higher social conscience or greater need for a bicycle and your other services. The ideal would be part of a Transit Hub.
- Near high foot traffic areas: Just like a for-profit business, there is no better way to get customers than a highly visible area where people just "stop in to check out what you do."
- Industrial: You will find some sweet warehouse space out here, but it can be hard to get volunteers to come out to the middle of nowhere. However, see below under Gentrification.
Typically this is only done when a space is vacant, and you will probably be asked to leave when the property owner finds someone else willing to pay rent.
According to the IRS, if a property owner donates space it is considered an In-Kind Donation and needs to be reported on your IRS Form 990 as income. The property owner needs to give you proof that they have rented the space in the past for that amount.
The property owner needs a receipt from you on your letterhead stating that you are 501(c)(3) and that they donated the space stating the starting and end dates.
- They can then claim it as a business expense, charity donations, or a tax write off.
- If part of the rental agreement is that you will renovate the space for the property owner, under Quid pro quo, the value of the renovation needs to be subtracted from the donated amount.
Buy a Building
Buying a building is the ultimate way to secure rent rates and [pending eminent domain]] never have to worry about getting kicked out and moving. This is obviously a big step and only recommended for more mature organizations.
- In 2011 Jimmy Hallyburton Boise Bicycle Project ran a "Biking to Buy the Building" capital campaign and raised about $150,000 in 6 months.
- Austin Yellow Bike Project has a lease from the city for $1 for 100 years on an empty plot of land. They raised enough money to build a building from scratch.
- Ryan Jenkins and Andrew, of Troy Bike Rescue, personally purchased a foreclosed building in Troy, New York for $5,000 USD at auction, and then re-sold it to the Troy Bike Rescue.
- October 2012, "With a ton of support from the community, the volunteer-run Bike Kitchen buys a building at 4429 Fountain and becomes a permanent fixture in L.A."
Same as a private owner, but the state doesn't need a tax write off.
Paying Rent VS Using Free Space
- Sopo Bicycle Co-op chose to pay rent for a shop space in order to maintain location security. This decision was made based upon observation of the experience of neighboring Decatur Yellow Bikes. Because DYB used spaces available until a new paying tenant signed the lease, the organization received 7 days notice before their move out dates. DYB is currently without a workshop space.
- The Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective also started out in a warehouse a volunteer lived in. After he and his roommates (warehousemates?) got fed up with bikes the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective almost rented a storage unit. Luckily a run down free space in the Glendale Plaza appeared, they stayed there for a year. After that year they were going to sign an official lease for $1000 per month. The building was sold and the new landlord and they had 3 days to leave or pay $1800 per month. As luck would have it a property owner (also an avid cyclist) sitting in an Exchange Club meeting listening to a presentation about the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective had a 3000 sq. ft. space near a UTA TRAX stop for $650 per month. They are still there.
The moral of the story is, you pay for what you get, so if you don't pay squat, you get treated like squat. Paying rent translates into stability, now they can worry about other things.
Types of Shop Spaces (Private Residence, Warehouse, Other Storage Space, Commercial/Retail Space, Etc)
- Sopo BIcycle Co-op's first shop space was located in a volunteer's house, which was problematic for at least two reasons. First, shop activities were curbed by the wants and needs of the volunteer's housemates. Second, being located in a private residence appeared to curb outreach. It was difficult to get anyone other than friends of volunteers to show up and use the shop. Relocating to a storage space behind a gallery in a busy pedestrian-friendly(ish) business district in a gentrifying area overrun with hipsters has fixed both of these problems.
- The Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective used to have a location in a very low-income part of the Salt Lake Valley. While it was almost impossible to get volunteers down to the space, or paying customers, they did provide a wonderful service to the community. Then they moved to an higher income, but industrial location next to a light rail train stop. While there was a significant decrease in walk-in low-income customers, the drastic increase in volunteers produces more bikes for low-income receipients than the old place. So the lesson they learned was to locate to where your volunteers are most likely to go; reach low-income populations through out-reach programs.
Gentrification, in a nutshell, is the displacement of poor people in a neigbourhood when wealthier people start to find it desirable and move in, raising the rents and cost of living so that it's unaffordable to many of the people previously living there. It's been very common in North American inner cities over the last twenty years. Often the first stage of the gentrifying process is the arrival of people who are not particularly independently wealthy, but who are young, white, hip,into art or punk rock, and who are looking for cheap rent. This makes the neighbourhood more attractive to the next waves of gentrifiers, students, and later full-on yuppies. Community bicycle shops often are concerned with their gentrifying impacts since:
- They usually can't afford to pay a lot in rent and end up locating themselves in working class neighbourhoods.
- They are virtually always dominated by white people, and usually by people from middle class backgrounds, who are into art and/or microbrewed beers and/or graphic novels and/or fixed gear bicycles.
- Community bike shops, regardless of their lack of money or good intentions, will make poor neighbourhoods more appealing to whiter, wealthier people.
- Many shops pride themselves on being radical, or at least taking social justice seriously, and would not want to think of themselves as displacing people more marginalized than themselves.
The perfect time to think about this is when choosing a space. If you can afford to locate your space on a campus or other area that is already dominated by wealthy white people, this might be something to consider. Industrial areas, though discouraged above, offer a way to avoid displacing people, since there usually aren't people living in those areas. If your shop does locate in a poor neighbourhood, some things to consider are:
- Are poor people from the neighbourhood able to access the shop as easily as others, taking into consideration their financial means, among other things, and remembering that your shop is making money, through cheaper rent, by being in their neighbourhood?
- Does your shop operate more like a soup kitchen (charity model) or do people from the neighbourhood get to have ownership over the space and have a say in how things are run (solidarity model)?
- Keeping in mind that police offer the muscle to help middle-class people take over gentrifying neighbourhoods, and that class strongly affects how people will be treated by the justice system (police, courts, prisons), how quick is your shop likely to resort to calling the police over non-violent incidents like bike theft? What is the shop's overall relationship with the police?
- (and there are infinitely many more. i should flesh this out further at some point...)