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Communities United: Reports of Bikes N’ Roses’ death have been greatly exaggerated

According to the nonprofit shop's parent organization, BNR has paused its retail component, but is still doing after-school programming and looking for new staff.

Youth at work at Bikes N’ Roses. Photo: BNR

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

Recently, Streetsblog heard a rumor that Bike N' Roses, a not-for-profit bike shop and youth education center located at 4600 W. Palmer Street in the Belmont Cragin community, was permanently closing its doors.

In fact, BNR's website currently states that the store's retail operations were shut down on April 16. However, the shop's parent organization Communities United told us it's still business as usual for the shop's youth programs, and they're working on hiring new staff to make BNR fully operational again.

Items for sale at Bikes N' Roses. Photo: BNR

Bikes N' Roses was founded in 2011 by hard rock-loving teens who hung out at the headquarters of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council. APNC Executive Director Raul Botello found grant money for the youth to buy bike repair supplies, and they began to repair cycles for community members at no charge.

Oscar Antonio Rivera Jr., who grew up nearby and worked at the for-profit bike shop the Cycle Smithy, helped the kids acquire a truing stand, three work stands, a table and a tent. They held a one-day bicycle repair clinic, during which they fixed 50 bikes. "That was supposed to be the end of Bikes N’ Roses," Rivera told Streetsblog in August 2013. "But I got super-attached to the kids and they wanted to do more stuff. Raul said to me, 'If I got you a grant, what would you do this summer?' And four hours later I came up with this curriculum idea, a very rough draft."

Oscar Antonio Rivera Jr., right, with a BNR participant in 2013. Photo: John Greenfield

Bikes N' Roses has had its ups and downs over the last decade, like the time in February 2012 when then-Governor Bruce Rauner cut the shop's state funding. The City of Chicago came to the rescue with a $154,000 grant. And, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic was a major challenge for nonprofit bike shops like BNR.

The Albany Park Neighborhood Council changed its name to Communities United and now does social justice initiatives in various parts of the city. It continues to oversee Bikes and Roses, and its webpage for the cycle repair program cites these achievements:

  • "Provide positive youth development and employment opportunities to over 60 youth annually."
  • "Donated bicycles to families and essential workers during the pandemic."
  • "Engaged over 1,000 families and youth through community wellness and bike rides to promote healthy living." 

Last October, Streetsblog reported on Bikes N' Roses' efforts to donate rehabbed bicycles to asylum seekers in need of low-cost transportation.

Then-Bikes N' Roses Program Director Joel Campbell, left, delivers a bicycle to the migrant shelter at the downtown Standard Club in fall 2023. Photo: Andrew Mack

But Streetsblog recently heard that Bikes N' Roses may have finally come to the end of the road. "It sounds like Bikes N' Roses is over," said one trusted source. "Word is their program director, Joel Campbell, has left, and after the spring After School Matters program is done in early May, that BNR is finished."

"I did step down," Campbell confirmed to Streetsblog. He said he did so on April 5, largely for personal reasons. "I'm now a seasonal wildlife firefighter with the Bureau of Land Management. [I'm] planning on making it a permanent career change." He added that Roberto Patino is managing the shop at the moment.

Raul Botello

But according to Raul Botello, now co-executive director of Communities United, the rumors about Bike N' Roses were only partially true.

“We didn’t close," Botello said. "We just had to pause the retail end of the social enterprise, partly because our program director left... Our youth development component with After School Matters is still ongoing, but at the moment we’re looking to hire new staff." He said he hopes the search will be completed by mid-summer. "You have to find the right person and train them, so it may take a bit of a while, but that’s our goal."

In the meantime, Botello said, Bikes N' Roses' after-school youth programming will continue to operate at its scheduled hours. "We have young people facilitating young people. They teach them how to fix bikes, the basics of bike mechanics." He added that they're still doing open shop sessions, where kids can drop in to do repairs, which he argued are good for building community and helping kids' mental health.

Photo: BNR

Botello encouraged those with any further questions about Bikes N' Roses’ current operations to email bnr@communitiesunited.org.

Here's wishing Communities United good luck with its staffing search for Bikes N' Roses, so that one of Chicago's key bike education programs can get back up to full speed.

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