Spring means community building through bikes

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Like many seasonal businesses, Venture North bike center was “slammed” at the first sign of spring’s fast-improving weather. Folks from the neighborhood started bringing their bikes in for tune-ups at the corner of Glenwood and Morgan.

Beginning in April, store hours will be Monday through Friday 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday 10-6, Sunday 12-5.

To the question many are asking, “When can I get a cup of coffee there?” the service counter is complete, but the coffee concept being re-thought, that opening is indefinite.

“Meeting the neighbors has been really cool,” said Paula Anderson, the new general manager March 20, anticipating the Glenwood Corridor Business Alliance coming to the bike center for their networking event that day. “This is an extraordinary community, there are so many different kinds of activities.”

Anderson said she bikes to work from her home in Loring Park near downtown, came from a corporate background, but had biked a lot as a kid. “I found a quality, small bike and learned how to use all those gears. I’d had an old one that didn’t work very well, and once I found this, I was sold on biking, I go everywhere.”

Venture North does repairs (three mechanics, one male and two females on staff) and sells new and refurbished bikes, and gear. “The retail shop supports the programming.” Retail staff are young people from the community, they’ve attended retail labs, Anderson said, and she is thrilled one is in college and another is applying.

“Yes, we’re a bike shop, but our unique selling point is employment for youth in the community.” Anderson said all five youth, ages 15-22, in the first apprentice mechanic class had perfect attendance at two nights a week of instruction for 16 weeks plus one-on-ones with Casey Pavek, the Education Services Manager.

A second class with 16 enrolled is starting soon. Park Tools donated stands for working on bikes, and there is a tool set for each of eight stations that will be set up in the basement at 1830 Glenwood Ave. N.

“The students came to understand the bike is an instrument of freedom, and transportation,” Anderson said. Pavek showed them how to deconstruct some of the bikes people had donated, talking intently about the value in each brand and year, before they recreated “five very different bikes, that fit their personalities. They were riding their own bikes in winter,” Anderson said.

Venture North is looking for volunteers to provide more one-on-one attention during classes. “They need to be skilled in bike mechanics, and be interested in working with kids. We’re interested in long-term relationships, the value of creating something out of nothing—expanding those skills to work and life. It’s a great foundation.” Prospective volunteers fill out an application and go through an assessment.

Donated bikes can either be refurbished and sold, or, if not salvageable, used for parts. To make a donation or to volunteer, call Venture North at 612-377-3029.

Minor repairs may be made as “wait and fix” if they can be done in less than 20 minutes and under a certain dollar amount. More intensive work will get a work order and estimate written up. “Oh, and we have free air. Come on in,” Anderson said. “There’s no gas station in the area with free air. We could have put a pump outside but we want people to come in to the shop. We want to get to know our neighbors and customers.”