Until Saturday, there were no bike shops in Blue Island, Illinois. The closest one – a high-end cyclist shop – is three miles from the Chicago suburb, and the nearest family- and budget-friendly spot is ten miles away. On June 11, Cal-Sag Cycles popped up on Western Avenue, thought, and student volunteers put together, tuned, revived and fixed up almost 100 bicycles free of charge. The pop-up bike shop was funded by a $12,000 Coca-Cola Foundation grant and funneled to Cal-Sag by Rails to Trails Conservancy.
Jason Berry, special projects manager for Blue Island, says he wanted to use the Coke money in a visible way rather than spread it out over time. “We wanted to give this a real presence – we wanted to give it that name ‘pop-up shop’ to get the buzz.” Cal-Sag Cycles will continue to fix and tune-up bikes through the end of the month.
A real presence is helpful near the corner of Western & Walnut where, until recently, a trio of retail spaces sat empty since 2007. Last year, a pop-up art gallery created some vibrancy and attracted an insurance company to lease the space. Then a scooter shop moved in next door, and now Cal-Sag Cycles. The pop-up repair store drew crowds on Saturday, the first day of Bike to Work Week, and gifts from community businesses. Christy Webber Landscapes supplied plants to line the sidewalk and Maple Tree Inn brought food for a street BBQ. Blue Island School District footed the insurance bill since the shop was positioned as an after-school program.
“Gotta be creative!” Berry exclaims. “All our hard costs have been basically nothing. We bought a bunch of paper towels and toilet paper. The space was free too – donated by landlord Jennie Malysa who got her Schwinn fixed and rode around town smiling from ear to ear.
Despite the community support, Cal-Sag is still a pop-up, and unless it raises $2,000 rent money for July, Blue Island will be shopless again. So far Berry says they’ve got $850 and interest from a ballet troop, music school and heavy-metal band to split the space costs or host fundraisers. The student volunteers will get something much more permanent. The experience of building bikes, some sparks of interest for future repair women and men, and – sweet – white Fuji Absolute 3.0 bikes, helmets, locks and lights purchased with the Coca-Cola money.
Greg Spielberg | June 15, 2011
Pop-Up Note: Blue Island … not actually an island. But it’s hilly, and in the 1830s when settlers came through and stood on the high land, they saw a blueish haze in the distance that reminded them of water. Blue Island has 23,000 residents and is halfway between Chicago and Gary, Indiana.
View more photos to see how Cal-Sag Cycles’ pop-up bike shop is bringing vibrancy to Blue Island, Illinois. Pictures by J. Aguilar