The Bicycle Kitchen Wants to Buy a New Building. Here’s How You Can Help

(Help the Bicycle Kitchen reach their fundraising goal to buy their own space.  You can donate on-line or you can pay to attend their celebratory square dance this Saturday night April 28th 2012.)

2005 was a big year for bicycling in Los Angeles. The monthly second-Friday Midnight Ridazz went from a few dozen cyclists to more than a thousand. Bike Summer tapped a growing do-it-yourself spirit to spread group rides throughout the week, later continuing throughout months and years.

And in 2005, the Bicycle Kitchen outgrew a cramped space (an actual kitchen!) in a small apartment under the stairs at Los Angeles Eco-Village. The cooks, volunteer leaders of the Kitchen, sought and found their own storefront retail space out in the real world. The Bicycle Kitchen’s new digs were located at 706 Heliotrope Drive. Analogous to freeway-widening, the larger space with greater capacity was so popular that, nearly immediately after moving, the Kitchen was full… and thoughts turned to… a space of their own.

But… what is the Bicycle Kitchen?

The Bicycle Kitchen has been called a cross between a bike shop and a bar (though there’s no actual drinking – just the kind of camaraderie one finds in a bar.) It’s more-or-less a non-profit bike shop. They don’t really sell bikes; they educate folks on how to repair and maintain bikes.

What’s amazing is that the Kitchen doesn’t have any paid staff, just a crew of 30 volunteer “cooks” at no cost.  Each cover weekly shifts, including weekly Monday night Bicycle Bitchen nights, open to cyclists who are female and transgendered. Volunteers call the shots, collaborate on tasks big and small, and keep the place running smoothly.

The Bicycle Kitchen has had visible local positive impacts around its East Hollywood locale. The sleepy anonymous retail strip it occupies at the corner of Heliotrope and Melrose is a prime example of how bicycling and bicyclists can revive local economies in communities where car parking is limited. The retail that used to be known as “over there kinda behind L.A. City College” is now affectionately called “Hel-Mel” or “The Bicycle District.” “Bicycle District” sounds kind of official, but it’s just what bicyclists call it. Cafes, an ice cream parlor, other kinds of parlors, and a thriving for-profit Orange 20 bike shop now occupy commercial space that had formerly been undesirable and underperforming.

The Kitchen’s model was soon spread to multiple other neighborhoods throughout the region. Inspired by kitchenlandia, the Bike Oven, BikeRoWave, Valley Bikery, Long Beach’s The Hub each formed and secured space.  So many co-ops have formed that it’s hard to keep track: Bici Digna, Bikesan@s del Valle, CSUN Bicycle Collective, Bici Libre… Any others yet?

Not only did the Kitchen inspire other collectives, but it served as a neighborhood community center that made bicycling accessible for anyone, and greatly contributed to biking becoming increasingly popular. Fixing up old bikes brings costs down – and empowers cyclists to feel proud of the two-wheeler they’ve built and maintained. Through teaching, skill-sharing, relationship-building – which all sounds much drier than it really is – the Bicycle Kitchen has grown the community of people who ride in Los Angeles.

Over time, the Kitchen moved from a fiscal-sponsor to become its own non-profit. It continued to be immensely popular, and through pay-what-you-like donations, began to build a small nest egg of savings. When it became clear that the landlord they were renting from wasn’t giving them any breaks, they formed a gruppo and began searching for a new location.

The Bicycle Kitchen is currently in escrow on a building twice the size of their Heliotrope storefront. It’s a former Filipino bakery, located about a mile from their current location. It’s on Fountain Avenue between Sunset Blvd and Virgil Avenue, close to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the Vermont/Sunset Metro Red Line Station. In addition to larger indoor space, it has a small outdoor surface parking lot that pretty clearly won’t be taken up by many cars in the foreseeable future. Overall the new site, indoor plus out, will be roughly three times the area the Kitchen currently occupies on Heliotrope.

Cooks talk of creating a more welcoming lounge space – inspired by BikeRoWave’s comfy seating area – plus a library and a classroom.

The new Bicycle Kitchen building would cost about $410,000. In addition to their accumulated savings and a generous grant from the Metabolic Studio-Annenberg Foundation, they’re taking out a mortgage. In order to meet a break-even point for keeping new payments cheaper than rent has been, the Kitchen aims to raise $30,000 by the end of this week. When Streetsblog last checked they were up to $12,280.33 – so they clearly need a little help.

If all goes well, they expect to close escrow by mid-May 2012 and begin operating in the new space later that month.

You can donate on-line or you can pay to attend their celebratory square dance this Saturday night April 28th 2012. Your generosity will help make sure that the Kitchen thrives and continues to be a cornerstone in L.A.’s movements for safe, healthy streets. Hopefully cyclists will look back at 2012 as another landmark year.

(Thanks to Bicycle Kitchen cooks Eric Potter and Bobby Gadda for providing background for this article.)