Three and a half years ago, The Common Wheel turned an abandoned Lancaster city pumphouse into a thriving community bike shop.
With a flagship program that had kids earning a bike after they helped fix it up, the nonprofit bike shop was getting recognized for its unique mission.
But what it wasn’t getting was a lot of visitors.
While the circa-1918 pumphouse at 701 E. King St. in Reservoir Park was ideal for running some programs, Chris Caldwell, the group’s founder and executive director, says its out-of-the-way location meant it often operated out of sight.
“We’re tucked back in the park,” Caldwell said. “There’s a lot of people that just couldn’t find us.”
So, in an effort to increase the organization’s visibility and streamline its operations, The Common Wheel will be opening a second location this spring at 324 N. Queen St.
Expected to be ready in April or May, the 2,000-square-foot shop will become a retail and service center for The Common Wheel and serve as a new hub for outreach and education efforts.
“We’re hoping this will help tell our story,” Caldwell said. “I think a lot of people are very confused by us. Some people think we’re just a bike shop. And some people only know us as just a charity.”
As executive director of The Common Wheel, the 30-year-old Lancaster resident oversees an organization with three staff members and an annual budget around $220,000.
Caldwell said The Common Wheel is now looking for a manager for the new Queen Street shop who will help implement his vision for the new location, the former home of Rev Chi Antiques.
“It’s a pretty big blank canvas,” Caldwell said .
Why are you adding a new location?
This summer it got to the point where we were locking the doors while we were running our kids classes.
It was great because we were focusing on the kids, but we were turning people away that are paying customers or are trying to get their bike back on the road so they can use it. That was the pain point that pushed us.
What’s your message about biking?
A big issue with bikes is visibility and awareness and getting people to think a little bit differently.
A driving force behind what we’ve always been trying to do is try and build up the culture and get people involved so that we can start to put pressure on to get more bike infrastructure.
People see bikes either as a poor man’s last choice or a rich man’s toy. And there’s a huge middle ground in between there that we’re looking to get people to see.
What will you have at each of the two locations?
All of our hands-on programs will stay at King Street. So the Earn A Bike class will be there. We’ll be able to shorten our hours there so when we’re running a class, the doors are closed.
We’ll continue to run some of our adult hands-on mechanics classes there, and we’re going to continue to do walk-in service — just enough to get somebody out on the road and going.
(At Queen Street) we really want this to become first and foremost the rallying point and the hub for the bike culture. We don’t want it to end up looking like a typical bike shop. We want to keep it a relatively clean, open space with places to sit and hang out.
People can learn more about all the other programs that we run. They can learn more about what’s going on in the city as far as bike infrastructure goes. We want to have a lot of resources here for people who are just starting to ride.
Will you add more to what you sell?
We’re planning on selling more accessories. Urban riding has grown a lot across the country, and there’s a lot of these neat, small, independent companies popping up making bags and accessories that are also stylish. We basically want to carry things where people can see this as a lifestyle that is cool.
We’re not planning on doing any racing or road bikes — there will be no Lycra being sold in here. There’s plenty of other people where that’s what they do. If you’re running a for-profit bike shop, that’s the profitable way to go, but that’s not what we’re really about.
If somebody brings in a road bike, we can fix it, but that’s not going to be any sort of focus of ours. The focus for us is city riding. Mostly we’ll have steel bikes and things that are accessible and easy to get around on.
The other avenue we might be looking to get into a bit is bike-packing and bike adventure riding.
Who is your target audience?
Bike curious. There’s a lot of people who are interested, and very few people just outright reject the idea of biking.
A big thing that gets lost is that it’s much more fun to ride your bike then it is to drive. Whether you ride or not, the more people we can get to choose riding instead of driving, it’s good for the whole city.
Will you continue to operate as a nonprofit?
The nonprofit side, the programming side, the job training, getting bikes out to refugees is going to continue to remain a focus, and that certainly needs to be subsidized.
We’re kind of using business as the fuel to propel things forward, but it wouldn’t be enough to stand alone to allow us to do all the other stuff we really care about.
I think the future is this social enterprise model of we’re not strictly a charity, we’re not strictly a for-profit, we’re kind of meeting in the middle, no matter what your actual tax status is.