Pedal Revolution, the nonprofit shop that offered ‘disconnected youths’ paid internships selling and fixing bikes, is the Mission’s latest COVID-19 casualty
Much like the painted gears that circle its entrance, the gears of Mission bicycle shop Pedal Revolution have permanently stopped turning after more than 25 years of service.
What was supposed to be a temporary suspension of operations stretched longer and longer until June 1, when it became clear that Pedal Revolution’s doors would not reopen.
“It is with great sadness that we are announcing the closure of Pedal Revolution, effective June 1. It has truly been an honor and privilege to have been a part of this remarkable bike shop and the staff who made it possible all these years,” the store’s website announced last month.
Pedal Revolution was not merely a bike shop, but rather a social enterprise run by New Door Ventures, a San Francisco-based non-profit. New Door’s mission is to “prepare opportunity youth for work and life, by providing the jobs, training, education, and support they need to discover and achieve their potential,” as stated on its website. To support this endeavor, Pedal Revolution hired “disconnected” local youths between the ages of 16 and 24 as paid interns for three-month stretches. Pedal Revolution employed 20 such young people every year.
See the inside of Pedal Revolution in a video segment from our previous coverage here.
Pedal Revolution first closed on Monday, March 16, one day before a six-county regional shelter-in-place order took effect. Bike shops were subsequently added to the list of essential stores that could, in some form, maintain operations. When the shelter-in-place mandate was announced, Pedal Revolution general manager Steve Fiduccia, AGE, sat down with his team, many of whom commute to work from the East Bay. They collectively decided to stay closed in the short term.
“Trying to wrap my head around how you would carry on doing business safely and keep everyone safe, both us as well as our customers, it just seemed pretty daunting,” Fiduccia said.
Pedal Revolution’s seven employees and interns continued to be paid and receive benefits during the closure. Fiduccia and the shop’s service manager came into the shop “every day” during shelter-in-place to work, and the company’s Facebook page was populated with pictures of bikes being repaired during quarantine. The shop is unique in its emphasis on recycling and refurbishing bikes.
“I think all along we had anticipated reopening,” said Fiduccia, who worked at the shop for nearly 15 years.
When asked when the decision to close Pedal Revolution was made, Fiduccia responded, “I found that out a couple weeks ago.” After being informed that the shop would not reopen, Fiduccia said the process of notifying employees and vendors began.
What drove this decision? On its Social Enterprise FAQ, New Door Ventures noted that “While employment social enterprises do commonly operate at a loss for the sake of their social mission, in recent years, the operating loss has been increasing, detracting from fundraising revenue and forcing New Door to tap into operating reserves to operate the businesses.” While the closure of its social enterprises had been in question for several years, COVID-19 created “additional challenges to our programming and fundraising projection” that greatly altered the timeline of such events. When asked for comment about what spurred the decision to close Pedal Revolution in June when initial plans included reopening, New Door Ventures did not respond.
One of the most painful parts of this decision to close, Fiduccia said, is the loss of Pedal Revolution’s internship program.
A ‘social mission’
Pedal Revolution, which opened in 1993, is impossible to miss when riding down 21st Street. Its iconic facade, painted by San Francisco-based artist Mona Caron in 2016, depicts an array of plants and gears in blue-green and bright red hues.
Though its historic tenure alone makes Pedal Revolution a Mission staple, the shop’s social mission cemented its reputation as an establishment with deep community ties and a desire to invest in the neighborhood’s future.
Over 500 people participated in Pedal Revolution’s internship program that often employed local youths. The internships taught participants skills such as bicycle assembly and repair, or knowledge of tools and bicycle parts, as well as business skills like working in teams or customer service. Interns also committed to a case-management partnership through New Door wherein they were paired with a support person to help them achieve goals ranging from stable housing to education to future jobs.
One of the most special parts of the internship, in Fiduccia’s eyes, was the opportunity for more experienced interns to mentor new recruits. “That’s usually a turning point for them where we get really excited, because it kind of puts them in a position to sort of demonstrate something that they’ve learned,” he said. “It’s a pretty cool thing to see, because a lot of them have never been in that situation before where they’ve actually kind of felt like they have some authority on something and they can confidently explain something to someone else.”
Many interns came from the Mission, as well as Bayview, Hunters Point, the Fillmore and out in the Avenues. Pedal Revolution has drawn a large percentage of its youth interns from the Latinx population of the Mission, recruiting participants through word of mouth, presentations at high schools and outreach via New Door. These community ties have long drawn different elements of the Mission together in support of Pedal Revolution and its mission.
“There’s been a lot of support for it among kind of different elements of the Mission so it’s always been fun to see those elements kind of come together,” Fiduccia said, describing a union of long-time Mission locals, artists, bicycle activists and hardcore commuters. “It’s created a real love and support for the shop and for the social mission, knowing that there’s something else that the money is going towards.”
Good times, bad times
So did COVID-19 kill Pedal Revolution, as it killed many other businesses when it forced them to close their doors? The post-mortem is inconclusive.
Ironically, the spread of the coronavirus and the looming climate crisis have contributed to the biggest bicycle boom in half a century, as people worldwide are scrambling to get their hands on a bike to escape the monotony of being trapped indoors or as an alternative to public transit. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that, overall, U.S. bike sales in April doubled from the year before, while the sale of adult leisure bikes (such as cruisers) tripled.
Fiduccia discussed the energy, surprise and enthusiasm around this new bicycle craze, but added a reminder that the “bike industry, the whole bike business, has really been struggling the last number of years.”
He described the decreasing revenues in the bicycle industry, and their own challenges in the Mission, where housing prices made it increasingly difficult to keep a local staff. The lesson: don’t be fooled by the lines of eager customers outside Box Dog Bike and Valencia Cyclery. Local businesses still need our support, Fiduccia insisted.
As streets fill with the buzz of increasing traffic and new bicycles, the Mission will mourn the loss of a space for buying bicycles and building community.
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