John Martin does not run the Bradley Street Bike Co-op ... but he did start it.
Back in 2014, Martin left his job as an architect in Boston to help his dad find use for a building his family had owned since the 1960s. Opportunity fell in his lap when his dad retired and started to consider selling the building.
The building was originally a bike shop when Martin’s grandfather purchased it and converted it into an electrical contracting business. More recently, the family had been using it as a kind of storage unit.
Once he acquired the building, Martin didn’t actually know what he was going to do it. It was only after cleaning it out for a full six months that an idea came to him.
“I just wanted to start something,” Martin said on the latest edition of WNHH’s “Werk It Out Program.” “And I really like bikes and I believe in bikes, so when I moved down here I thought ‘Oh, I want a space to be able to work on bikes.’” (Click here for a previous feature story on the launch of the business.)
Martin’s goal was to have the co-op be more than a place where people just drop off and pick up bikes.
His route to entrepreneurship was careful and calculated. Martin said he minimized most risks and slowly started acquiring the basics for building a business— insurance, inventory, bank accounts. One of his first and biggest purchases was a standing tool box and some bike tools. Dozens of trips to the junkyard and several rounds of selling stuff on Ebay later, Martin felt he was in a position to open his doors.
“I started this thing because I wanted to learn how to start something, and there wasn’t what I wanted here in New Haven,” he said. “I started it thinking I was going to run this hip, cutstom, weird thing where people would just come and do intense projects. Now it’s something I think is 100 times better.”
Martin’s been leading his bike co-op with an eye towards social responsibility, ensuring that community members who need and use bikes as a form of transportation have access to the tools they need to stay on two wheels. Martin’s co-op doesn’t fix your bike for you. It equips you with the tools and knowledge to fix it yourself, a living example of one of the shop’s motto: “Your hands should be dirtier than ours.”
The co-op also isn’t a shop for the latest gear and accessories. It almost exclusively sells used bikes and parts as made possible through community investment in the project.
Through donations, volunteers and an investment in equity, Martin has been able to give bikes to high school students in need, immigrants and refugees via IRIS, and help diversify New Haven’s already vibrant cycling community.
“I think because I started it without a real idea about what it was or what it would look like, it allowed me to be really flexible moving forward. And that has worked really well,” he said.
Martin’s work has helped make New Haven rank as a bronze level bicycle-friendly community through the League of American Bicyclists, according to Doug Hausladen, the city’s transit director.
“The thing that is important about cycling in New Haven and where New Haven is in the cycling world is that [we’ve] spent a lot of time pushing our local government,” Hausladen said. “And nowadays we also spend a lot of time pushing the state of Connecticut and moving the state forward with the City of New Haven.”
“It is no accident that we have more cyclists today than we had six years ago; that is on purpose,” he said.
“It’s not on Bradley Street Co-op exclusively, and it’s not on the Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking,” Hausladen said. “If bike culture wants to be stronger, bike culture has to do the work of making it stronger.
Click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear the full episode of “Werk It Out” on WNHH FM.