Cal-Sag Cycles started with the opportunity to give kids a bike, teach them how to wrench, and get them riding. But what we set out to prove didn’t stop there.
It’s no secret we’re inspired by Build a Better Block and wanted to bring some vitality back to Uptown - Blue Island’s historic central business district. Uptown is rich with old buildings… some historic, some just, well, old. Which is great for what we wanted to accomplish. As Jane Jacobs famously put it: “New ideas must use old buildings.”
We knew right where to start. This forlorn stretch of Western Avenue:
The building on the left was once an auto dealership, and probably quite handsome in its day. It still boasts huge windows, larger than the aluminum-framed systems used today. Unfortunately, its transom lights were covered when the drop ceiling went in. Around the same time the space was carved into multiple units. The shingled mansard roof was the 1970s backdrop for a splashy sign for a beauty school, which has since moved on, leaving behind this beauty school drop out.
But all was not lost. A scooter shop recently reoccupied the corner unit. The owners are a local family who played a strong role in Uptown’s mid-century boom. And while the market may have left for more suburban pastures, they continued to own these great old buildings, ripe for new ideas, and were eager to help.
It began with a pop-up. Local artists approached the building owners, and last winter two pop-up art galleries were born. One for student artists from the local grade-school district, the other dubbed 12840 Gallery. The owners have told us that the pop-up has been great for attracting potential tenants, and they have already leased one of the vacant spaces. A win for the arts!
When the chance to do Cal-Sag Cycles came our way, we approached the building owner and 12840 Gallery with an idea: can we share this space? An art gallery / bike shop mash-up was born, and we started to imagine our Pop-Up Local Bike Shop (PULBS).
Our goal was to do more than bring people to our shop - we wanted to breathe life back into Western Avenue. And with it, remind the community of what was lost was not forgotten… heck, it wasn’t even lost! It’s right there, in our old buildings, just waiting for us.
We had something on our side: an idea you couldn’t say no to. What Scrooge would turn down a program that gave bikes to at-risk youths, opened its doors to the community for free bike repair, provided access to the arts, AND built a better bike shop, right there in the heart of Uptown. We couldn’t lose! So the bike shop got underway. This is where we started:
And this is where we finished on Day 1:
We were now ready for the kids. They moved in two days later and started setting up bike stands and getting to work
all we had to now was get ready for our Grand, One-Day Only Opening on June 11.
What do the best blocks share? An inviting landscape, a reason to linger, and a place to rest and take it all in. We called a friend that works at a local landscape firm and asked if we could borrow plants for the day. Wow, did they ever say yes! We loaded up with trees, shrubs, roses, perennials, flats of annuals, and even a veggie garden!
And headed, carefully, slowly, down Western Ave:
The results were incredible! Benches, tables and chairs were brought in, bike racks replaced cars on the street
as Western Ave sprouted trees!
We even nabbed a grill to create our own pop-up food cart. What block can’t be better with food!
That lonely, unfriendly stretch at the top of this post had been transformed:
The energy inside matched what we had going outside. Our better block pulled in plenty of folks driving by, eager to see what was going on.
The results don’t lie: Cal-Sag Cycles serviced 90 BIKES! We were open 4 hours, and helped 90 bikes get back on the road. Hundreds of people stopped by, with or without bicycles, to support the kids and check out the art gallery, which was open to the public for the first time. And given a chance, they stuck around, chatted with friends and neighbors, enjoyed a hot dog, sat on a bench or at a cafe table, and just enjoyed the day, right there on Western Avenue.
From start to finish, this took less than a month to pull off. It wasn’t hard, but it was hard work. For the enthusiasm and good will it brought to Uptown, it was worth every minute, every penny, and every drop of sweat. We hope we’ve inspired a town to think small, think local, think old, and start building better blocks everywhere.
(thanks to J. Aguilar for a bunch of pics, including the one above. Please follow him on tumblr - check out his photo set from our Grand Opening here.)