The Rise & Fall... continued.
I didn’t have. This means money, which I didn’t have. This means a car, which….well, is just plain offensive. I thought the fact that I made an attempt to live simply and reduce my dependence on physical resources would be seen as a financially responsible outlook. It’s not. Banks don’t want to know that you aren’t indebted to mortgages, credit card companies, loan sharks, etc. In actuality, they want to know that you ARE indebted to them, but have the ability to stay ahead of their demands. Welcome to Capitalism 101. It was a longshot, but I applied for the loan and tried to subdue the butterflies in my stomach for the next week.
I finally got the call from the bank. No deal.
I was crushed. I was ready to throw in the towel when a friend of mine who was very supportive of the idea pushed the non-profit route on me. Starting a bike shop as a non-profit puts some restrictions and regulations on your functions as a business, but it also opens up all kinds of avenues for start-up revenue. There are grants, donations, transportation funding, etc. etc. It was like I was staring at a pot of gold, or so I hoped.
I decided to start the non-profit process, with a lot of groundwork already completed by going the private business route, and got to work. Let me tell you something, when it comes to playing by both the rules of capitalism and government regulation, it can feel like waiting in line at the BMV…excruciatingly, painfully, long and boring. What it takes to become a non-profit is not a big deal, but to become a non-profit eligible for grants and donations is like writing a novel, but in triplicate. Still, I knew this shop just HAD to open, and trudged on.
We needed approval of 501c3 status. We needed “promised” transportation funding from the city. And once those were secured, we needed to sign the lease on our retail space. I started making future plans for how I was going to conduct my days once the shop opened, gauging how long I could stay at the shop in a given day, if we would decide to fix the police bikes (leaning towards “no”), what programs we were going to start, dreaming of our impact on the city, etc. etc. etc. I was ready to declare victory.
Then it all came to a screeching fixed gear skid, getting side-swiped by a city bus.
We got a call from the 501c3 application representative, informing us that our revenue plan didn’t fit into the parameters of a non-profit (expecting a certain percentage of money to come from sales), so we’d have to completely redo our projections. Then the city officials I was working with became entirely unresponsive to our plan and basically said there was no funding available to us (the second time I’ve been screwed by them with that excuse). Finally, the space we had “promised” to us, located in the center of downtown, was sold to another owner, effectively forcing us to recreate our entire set of financial projections. It wasn’t like someone had let the air out of our tires. It was like they had stolen our wheels, crumpled our top tube, slashed our seat, and shit on our handlebars.
All that effort, all that dreaming, all that support, was like a Vanilla track bike with the paint peeled away to reveal a Huffy without a derailleur. Useless.
I wish I could tell you that we persevered, ultimately met an eco-millionaire dying to fund a creative upstart and opened up the shop, but we didn’t. We cut our losses, cursed the city, and distributed our benefit money to three different bike organizations around the city.
And that was that. Please stop asking me about it.
On one hand, the bike shop was a failure, but on the other, the lessons I learned from playing capitalism’s games, dealing with city authorities and shady landlords, and generally carrying through a lot of tedious bullshit has given me a new level of experience and perspective I never would have gotten just casually riding around the city complaining about our lack of bicycle counter-culture. I took all that with me and rode away, taking the fight elsewhere.
Postscript – I always said if we didn’t open this shop, some clueless bike shop owner who caught onto the potential of a downtown location would open up, do everything wrong, and quickly go out of business. A local shop I started working for did that very thing. They opened up downtown, carried the wrong product, made no effort at creating an urban culture, offered no amenities to commuters, went through all the wrong advertising avenues, and closed shop a year later. I hate to say I told you so, but…