Chicago bike shop helps build community

ByHolly Grisham via Localish logo
Thursday, September 24, 2020
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This grassroots shop is providing bikes to help engage the entire community.

CHICAGO -- West Town Bikes is a community bike shop where kids can come to work and earn parts, accessories and even a bike by being involved.

Alex Wilson is executive director of the shop in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood.

"This is something that impacts the community in a big way; it's not just about bikes," said Jamal Turner, a bike mechanic with Ciclo Urbano, which is part of West Town Bikes.

The shop is located on Chicago's West side, near Humboldt Park. The Humboldt Park neighborhood is the heart of Puerto Rican culture and history in Chicago, Wilson said.

"They've had many challenges, they have low-income issues, struggles with housing, jobs, education," he said.

The bike shop's mission is to support youth who are underserved, Angie Vera said.

"I was one of those kids," she said.

They seek to use bikes to build community through youth programs.

Turner said he would come every day to avoid other aspects of his life that took a toll.

At the height of the program, they were serving up to 1,000 youth per year, Wilson said.

"All of our youth programs have a focus on bike mechanics and repair, safe cycling health and social responsibility," he said. "Taking young people on a ride to a college campus makes it that much more accessible to them. With older kids, we have a large focus on job training and employment."

Ciclo Urbano is West Town Bikes' retail operation, and the young people manage it.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person programs have been suspended, and it's taken a financial toll, Wilson said. But because bike shops are deemed an essential service, they've been able to stay afloat.

Some programs are now being offered online, too.

West Town Bikes/Ciclo Urbano
2459 W. Division St.