The shop is ending 2022 with a lot of momentum heading into the next year. This year saw tremendous growth in opportunity for students to come into the shop to learn to repair their own bicycles: 64 students signed up for and attending one of the classes we offer and were taught by either Cory, the shop owner, or Jessica, the shop's first employee. The shop hosted two large events, the Teacher Fund(ay) on 5/14 and the Vision Zero panel, to celebrate the shop's fourth anniversary, on 10/30.
2022 was not the first year the shop has commissioned artists for work. It was the first year to see a group of artists contribute in different ways to giving the shop a distinct appearance in how it markets itself to riders. The work contributed by artists was playful, personal and clearly caught the eye of a lot of riders.
Excluding purchases of inventory like consumables, components and whole bicycles, it cost $23k to operate the shop in 2022. That cost includes rent, utilities, insurance, licenses, taxes and employee wages (at a rate of $50/hour) as well as seven artist commissions, party supplies and payments to local businesses who supported the shop's May 14th event, the Teacher Fund(ay). All costs added together, $45k was spent in the year. The shop's current inventory of components stands at around $16k.
In revenue, the shop took in $39k. Of that, the shop sold 20 refurbished bicycles for a total take of $16k, or an average of $800 per bicycle. In general, the shop marks up components sold individually or on assembled bicycles by 1.6 and most components are sold on bicycles and the shop only rarely sells consumables; we usually talk people out of replacing parts. Assuming the shop makes a 40% margin, then the cost of goods sold is around $9.6k. That brings operating costs up to around $32.6k, or a net result of just under $7k in profit. Of that, $4k will be paid back to the city and state in sales taxes. 2022 may be the first year for which the shop owes the Federal government taxes on income.
Excluding the revenue of bicycles sold, the shop's community contributed likely $23k this year to either join a group class in the shop or come in for a one-on-one work session. Some riders assembled an entire bicycle, wheels and all. Others came for a quick inner tube replacement. In every case, the shop asked riders to pay a free price: pay what you want, pay what you can. The results in the shop's accounts make it clear that a business like a bicycle shop can operate at a profit, pay decent wages and focus on offering access to learning while trusting riders to provide enough financial support to allow the shop to run sustainably. What's more, for each stretch of classes taught by Jessica, the shop was able to both guarantee a rate of $50/hour, no matter how many students attended a class, yet always make a small profit. The shop's community showed it's not only possible to run a business using the free price model but also offer a decent hourly wage to an employee.
An enormous thank you is in order for everyone who supported the shop in any way this year. I am also proud and hopeful to say that 2022 was hopefully a year when everyone who came into the shop felt like they got their money's worth and in exchange were happy to provide their support in a way that allows any rider to attend a class, regardless of their ability to pay.
What's below is first and foremost a gallery of photos in no particular order from 2022. A big thank you to Margo Vansynghel, my partner and the shop's biggest supporter, for taking many of these photos. After, there's a month by month break down of the year as well as some thoughts about the impact of events, the trends that wove through the year and an accounting of the development of course material. Thanks for reading and we hope very much to see you in 2023.
Heading into 2022, the shop had just signed another year long lease and had discontinued its apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship ran on the premise that the bikes apprentices built could be sold to fund the stipends apprentices were allocated. After the summer of 2021, bikes were not selling easily and back ordering became less problematic but riders weren’t spending much for bikes or parts at the shop. The last apprentices in the shop finished their term in August, 2021.
I remember deciding to sign the lease and thinking: one more year when I can run the shop wide open and see what it can do. I knew that people were willing to come to the shop and pay a free price to learn how to work on their bicycles because in the spring of 2021, I taught the Tuesday one-on-one courses and realized how popular they were. And the free price earnings were fantastic.
Going into 2022, the shop was at a turning point. The apprenticeship program, which had run since October, 2018, was ending. I was wondering at the same time how sales would carry the shop financially. Finding 2nd hand frames that were attractive to most riders was getting harder and more expensive. There weren’t as many new riders coming to shop.
Even though I expected sales to fall, I kept building bikes. I tell myself that building is where good teaching comes from. And in a way I didn’t have anything else to do. Other than make a decision about what would happen over the next year in the shop.
There have been many times when I’m mostly working in the shop alone, and that’s how 2021 ended. I was building up bicycles and fretting about sales. It turned out those bicycles carried their weight financially throughout 2022, although at weird intervals than what I was used to. Before the fall of 2021, I would normally sell in the fall and spring times. For 2022, sales were sporadic but would often be clustered and we're a big help in months when no classes were meeting.
What was different about this period was I was writing up the curriculum for the four day course. There wasn’t a start date for the four day course. I was working with reams of shared google.doc notes from the work with apprentices. The notes had uniform headings, which came out of wanting to provide apprentices with something like a workbook. Certain sections that worked well would be copy-pasted into the shared document for the next group and improved on. By December 2021, I had a full sketch of the material I could cover in a four day course in bicycle repair. In its earliest form, it does not look likely to have been very useful to any of the first students but was a solid base to make conditions fun once in the shop.
The first group class in bicycle repair started meeting in mid-january, 2022. I had to look in my email to find the dates of these classes because I wasn't yet using google calendar to schedule with students. These classes were likely held on Saturdays, starting 1/15. and meeting on 1/22, 1/29 and 2/5 from 2-5pm, and on Tuesdays, starting 1/24 and meeting 2/1, 2/8 and 2/15 in the evening. Students were still asked to fill out an application: 1. Are you available on 1/15, 1/22, 1/29 and 2/5 from 2-5pm, and able to bring a bicycle to the shop with you on those days/times? 2. What do you see yourself doing with repair skills? 3. What do you know about the Little Saigon neighborhood in Seattle, and what can you say about how bicycles are used in the neighborhood? By March I wasn't asking students to answer those kinds of questions. 9 students for the period.
In the first months of spring 2022, I taught a four day class on Saturdays, 2-5pm starting 3/13 to five students. I also taught a four day class on Mondays, 5:30-8:30 starting 3/14 to four students. I taught a 2 day fixie specific class to two students. I had a student from Cal Poly take a 2 day course on Saturdays starting 3/19 from 10-1. 11 students for the period.
The success of the classes put wind in the shop’s sails. It felt like there was a reason to celebrate and also showcase the shop.
I planned a big event for 5/14: the Teacher Fund(ay). It was a day to turn the page, to look ahead and I wanted people to know what the shop was about. That meant promoting the shop’s plan to offer more classes and pay an employee to teach them, which came in the form of a general ask to come spend money at the event. But I also wanted to use the event to show what the shop was capable of and where its values were. I priced to sell as many of my components and tools as I could and planned to lay them out for sale. Prices were mostly in bulk, there was a self checkout system: Venmo QR codes posted all over the sales floor. Visitors saw the the shop turned inside out. I asked vendors–Beacon Bags, Aerosol media and Smash the Box–to come and promote their work, which they did and made sales. Song Phang Kong, the restaurant that shares a wall with the shop, catered the event for a flat fee. There was a four-part race with prizes from up and down S Jackson St. The race was challenged across four heats, IN each heat, racers left the shop to one of four points on the compass, and then returned, for a break: Real Change HQ, where racers were asked to sign I-135, Barbara Bailey Way on Capitol Hill, the Soul Poul in the CD and Daejon Park next to I5. It was a well attended race with a lot of fun riders and friends of mine liked getting swept up in the event staging: managing racers and tabulating points. I commissioned an artist to create a token or memorial for the day that the shop would sell and another artist to create a flyer for the event. It generated a fund with about $2000 in it to pay the teacher when free prices wouldn’t cover wages.
Jaws started teaching in May as well: one 4 week class starting 5/16 and ending on 6/13 to four students. I began teaching the two day course on 5/21 (finished 5/22), then taught another two day course on 5/24 and 5/26 to four students. There were no courses taught July through August. 9 students for the period.
In June there was a special visit from Council Member Tammy Morales. Jaws was in the shop as well as some of Tammy’s aides: Evelyn, Devlin and a photographer. We took a picture with wrenches in our hands, a throw back to when TJ brought Kent’s mayor Dana Ralph through the shop.
What happened between June and August? Interest in classes was slowing. In some cases, students signed up for a class and canceled the day of, frustratingly. It put me in a funk about organizing new classes. I was also involved a lot of training rides and racing. I was at Seward Park every thursday for ten weeks straight between June and September and doing hilly training rides 2-3 times per week. The hills were becoming a blam. I was not spending much time in the shop but I was still there too often, sometimes building, sometimes writing curriculum. Looking back I wish I had rented the shop for a free price to maybe some artists and taken more time for myself.
Going into fall, I had whittled the two day course outline into a one day outline. I had not taught the course before turning it over to Jaws. The outline had proper chapter headings. Jaws and I had gone over it and Jaws was open to teaching it. At this point, it was feeling natural to schedule classes and knock them down one by one. It was also somewhat routine for me to leave the state while the classes were meeting. In May, I had flown to Texas when Jaws taught the first four day course. In September, Margo’s parents were in town and I was sometimes in another country when courses were meeting.
September was the first month of big numbers, and they were all on Jaws’ shoulders. Jaws was teaching a lot of people on a very different scale than either of us were used to. In September, Jaws taught a 1 day group class to 15 students. The classes started on Sunday 9/11 and met again on Sundays 9/18 and 9/25. Jaws also taught two 1-on-1 courses to two students. I taught no classes, as Margo's parents were in town that month. Total of 17 students for the period.
After the success and energy that came from the Fund(ay), I wanted to plan another event. The shop’s anniversary, Halloween, seemed like a good occasion. I thought: why don’t we talk about something scary. I also thought: why not give people, not just students and not necessarily just riders, a chance to come and learn in the shop. That’s where the idea for a panel discussion on Vision Zero came from.
The panel was held on 10/30 and was moderated by Ryan Packer. Panelists were Anna Zivarts, Mike Linblom, Tiffany McCoy and Brad Topol, who represented SDOT. Another event, another chance I thought to showcase what the shop is about. It took a month of planning and building, which unfortunately overlapped with a period of terrible smoke. I got a chance to remodel again, which included installing a new sink and washing station, rationalizing the storage and playing around building cabinets and benches using interlocking pieces of plywood. It was also a chance to test myself and the shop.
I was also by this fall doing a fair amount of reading about the origins of bicycle manufacturing. I read the The Penguin Book of the Bicycle, from 1978 by Roderick Watson, A Social History of the Bicycle: Its Early Life and Times in America, from 1972 by Robert Watson, Peddling Bicycles to America: The Rise of an Industry, from 2010 by Bruce Epperson, as well as some contemporary books about the bicycle, like Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle, from 2022 by Jody Rosen, and a book of speculative feminist futuristic bike fiction, Biketopia: Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories in Extreme Futures. I started thinking a lot about what the shop’s growth was tied to the fact of being a shop: what kind of space is a shop? Why do they exist? When did they first appear?
There were no classes leading up to the event and it turned out to be too big of a challenge to organize new classes for November, 2022. I took that month to focus on builds and working myself into the new layout of the shop. Doing builds is a fantastic way to find ways to improve the shop’s layout. Jaws I think would like to have taught more but I didn’t make it happen.
Today it’s December 12th, when I will have mostly put this year into writing. I will likely come back and add some revenue numbers to overlay the periods of work. Today I decided to count how many students had been through the shop. It took a bit of forensic work to track down each of the student lists. They were saved in haphazard locations and had to be reconstituted. Finding them was what showed me the arc of the year, which made me want to put it to words. I also see here where I’ve put down for the first time the titles and authors of the books I’ve been reading. I can see that section growing through next year.
Before finishing, let’s the numbers for December: Jaws booked two 1 day classes, on Sundays, starting 12/4 and again on 12/11, to eight students. I taught two 1 day classes with a disc brake focus on Saturdays, starting 12/10 and meeting again on 12/18, to 6 students. There is a class scheduled for 12/17 that may see another 3 students. At least 17 students in the month. If you look at it on a monthly basis, there are now twice as many students coming through the shop now than were coming through at the beginning of the year.
The number 64 is the sum of all the student totals for each teaching period. There were four teaching blocks in 2022, they were late winter, early and late spring, fall and early winter sessions for 2022. The year started with a four day course, the first offered after the apprenticeship was discontinued in the fall of 2021. In the first month of 2022, five students, who were asked to submit an application to join the class, completed the four day course. Jaws started teaching a four day course in May 2022 while I started teaching the two day course. By September, Jaws was teaching one day courses. It's pretty stark to think of how much more time in the shop those 2022 pioneers had versus the three hours that most students now spend in the shop.
That’s the year in a wrap. The shop has a piece of you in its walls and design. It’s still at a stage when every interaction still leaves an impression and impacts the shop's future. I’ve signed another year lease at the end of November, 2022 and at the moment am feeling excited to have another year to run a business that operates almost entirely on good will and the premise that teaching provides a path on which the shop will chart its future.